My Night With Reg at the Apollo
It’s surprising to count only six cast members at the final bow, so skilled was late playwright Kevin Elyot at conjuring a whole crowd of unseen characters. The eponymous Reg, whom we never see, is the hinge around which the action swings, and absent side characters become as known to us as those onstage.
Set in 1980s London during the worsening AIDS crisis, the characters exist under an ominously ticking timer that picks their friends off one by one. Without ever mentioning AIDS (instead “safety”), it hangs unknowable and horrific in the air, a death sentence.
It is this overarching theme of mortality that renders the play’s other themes of love and fidelity all the more urgent and fragile, the missed chances and untold desires still more hopeless. Even its upbeat soundtrack (The Police’s Watching You, Bowie’s Starman) reinforces the focus on death, as do the currents of subtext running below the dialogue. Reg takes on the ghostly, ever-changing face of the deceased girl referred to in An Inspector Calls; he fits each character as required and any solid truth about him eludes us.
Beautiful phrasing carries the play along, following crests of joy and mad humour with slumps of melancholia. The most unexpectedly touching moment comes when friends Daniel and John dance elatedly to David Bowie’s Starman after a wake.
We become acquainted with a host of distinct, complete characters, the dynamics richly varying between the different friend combinations. Special mention must go to Geoffrey Streatfield for his flamboyant and immensely likeable portrayal of Daniel, with his easy delivery of lines like “masturbating in marigolds”.
Elyot presents the passing of time so deftly it’s a shock when you realise with a jolt that what you thought was a moment later in fact marks over a year’s passing. This Narnia-esque effect unsettles, hurtling the wretched characters towards their inevitable doom. The painted door frames in the conservatory become a marker; they’re being freshly painted in the first timeframe but are referred to as needing a new paint job in the next.
Peter McKintosh’s set – Guy’s neat sitting room and rain spattered conservatory windows beyond it – is beautiful and naturalistic. Lighting and music enrich the ambience, heralding with sinister beauty the tragedy that is to unfold.
Under Robert Hastie’s capable direction, Elyot’s superbly woven play following the loves and losses of injustly short-lived lives is retold with dynamism and tenderness.
My Night With Reg is on at Apollo Theatre from 17th January until 11th April 2015. For further information or to book visit here.