"Boulevard" comedies used to be a West End staple - the Apollo was once home to the long-running Don't Dress for Dinner in the early 1990s. They've largely vanished from sight, but the gorgeously funny yet utterly heart-breaking My Night with Reg that brings a boulevard comedy back to the same Apollo Theatre could be re-titled 'Don't Dress for Breakfast' (spoiler alert: they don't dress for breakfast! But in this case, that's not so much a spoiler as something to whet your appetite.)
But titillation isn't the business of the day. Rather, its author Kevin Elyot has cleverly appropriated an old-fashioned theatrical form to bring new vigour to it, as he boldly plays with form to chart, across three scenes all set in the same London flat, the changing years amongst a group of once-close former University friends.
When it premiered in 1994 at the height of the AIDS crisis, the crushing spectre of death hung over these characters (as well as the audience watching it). But there's still an ambushing sense of mortality today (not least because AIDS, although not an instant death sentence anymore, is still claiming lives, and indeed did so for Elyot himself just before this London revival of his play first opened last summer at the Donmar Warehouse).
The play may at first seem like a conventional gay party comedy - much like Mart Crowley's landmark 1968 play The Boys in the Band - assembling a group of friends to bitch and banter, drink and party. But there's a tentativeness in the air - a barely suppressed terror in the room. Friends are falling ill. Safe sex is the order of the day.
There's also something else: betrayal and infidelity. Over the course of the play, several are revealed. It becomes a piercing, painful study in love and friendship. It is rendered, in Robert Hastie's meticulously calibrated production, with an exquisitely understated sincerity and charm.
The performances could simply not be better. Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild as old rivals and best friends are both heartbreakingly good as two men who turn out to have loved the same man. Jonathan Broadbent as the permanently singleton Guy is a picture of frustrated desire and longing that's devastating. Richard Cant and Matt Bardock as the long-settled (but no less frustrated) couple capture the rapport that exists between two people who love and irritate each other in equal measure with deadly accuracy. And Lewis Reeves, completing the cast as the young outsider finding his new gay feet in a world he has tumbled into, progresses from a beautifully naïve innocence to an awakening that he wants something else.
I can't recommend enough that you should spend a night at My Night with Reg.
"My Night with Reg is the most artificial and the truest, the funniest and most searing play to be found anywhere on the London stage. It matters absolutely that all the characters in it are gay, and it matters not a jot."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"British drama doesn’t get better than this."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
"Elyot balances the drawing-room comedy and the poignancy with rare delicacy. Robert Hastie, following his first full Donmar directorial credit, fully deserves this West End transfer, and shows himself every bit as sensitive to the balance as Elyot."
Ian Shuttleworth for Financial Times
External links to full reviews from popular press