It is 1994: AIDS is sending tremors of fear through a world of gay young men with multiple partners. Guy (a nuanced, funny, heartbreaking performance by Jonathan Broadbent) is a fussy, tubby, kindly host who has invited friends to his flat-warming party. He is the only one who is careful and anxious about the new danger , taking up knitting a cover for his draught-excluder “as a lust-suppressant”. He has also been desperately, hopelessly and silently in love with John, the rich and handsome member of their set, and is rather in awe of Daniel, the teasing wit who now lives with the invisible Reg. Reg is the invisible catalyst: legendarily lustful and desirable, he has also been having an affair with John; and appears also to have had flings with their friends dull domestic Bernie and his thuggish bus-driver partner Benny. Oh, and there’s Eric the pretty young barman from Brum....
So you might conclude that Kevin Elyot’s 1994 hit is a “gay play” or an “AIDS issue play”. But it is far more than that: a comedy laced with real darkness and grief, not just at the two deaths which occur in the gaps between the scenes in Guy’s flat. Five out of the six men are on the face of it cheerfully promiscuous, very funny about their hook-ups and other people’s, but all of them are looking for something rarer and harder to get than sex: emotional intimacy. And, beyond that, love. And beyond that, and seemingly almost impossible, fidelity.
In two unbroken hours, Robert Hastie’s production is as near perfect as you could ask: the waves of comedy and sadness flowing, swelling, breaking, eddying around one another so that the watcher is wholly involved with the cast, whether you are headshaking or simply heartbroken in contemplating their lives and their tangled situation. Gay or straight, old or young, you find yourself among that group of friends and recognize the universal yearnings, the aches, the awkwardnesses, the hunger for something solid.
Broadbent is superb, but so are Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfield as the handsome young conquistadors who crumble in grief, Lewis Reeves as the young barman, and Richard Cant - lover of the splendidly oafish Benny - whose sinuous, ingratiating desperation is at first funny, then tragic. It was high time this play was revived, and not as a period piece. It’s a gem
"The director Robert Hastie does the piece proud, capturing its constantly shifting moods with great elan and with the help of an outstanding cast."
Charles Spencer for Daily Telegraph
"I hope that Hastie and gang are taking pride in how this production pays the author's memory a huge and (in every respect) handsome tribute."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Played straight through at 110 minutes, Robert Hastie's production catches the secret fears and surface buoyancy of this group of companions and gets fine performances all round."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Robert Hastie’s revival triumphs through a smartly judged mixture of exuberance and delicate understatement, highlighting the cool precision of Elyot’s writing — an assured command of structure and a gift for incisive comedy."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"A landmark production of a landmark play."
Patrick Marmion for The Daily Mail