Review - Kevin Elyot's Coming Clean at Trafalgar Studios
It's funny how plays can make you feel your age by being very specifically of their time - yet also make you realise that both everything and nothing has changed, too.
Seeing Kevin Elyot's first play Coming Clean returns to the London stage at Trafalgar Studios, 37 years after its world premiere at the Bush, where I was to find myself transported back to pretty much where my own gay life in London had begun. I had seen it as a student then, down in London from university, just as I was starting out on my first long-term relationship - but before I'd experienced one of any length. Now that I've lived some of the challenges it chronicles myself, it feels completely truthful.
Yet it also feels, in some regards, slightly a period piece; there is not yet any mention of HIV/AIDS that would wipe out a lot of the generation who, like me, came of age during this time (including the playwright himself, who died in 2014, aged just 62). Nor, of course, is there any notion that marriage may become a possibility for these characters. But there's a lot of smoking (which, in the tiny confines of Trafalgar 2, threatens to become oppressive).
Partners Tony and Greg have lived together for five years, both of them writers - though one is a lot more successful than the other. (Another sign of the play's age: there's not a laptop, let alone a mobile phone, in sight). They hire a domestic help Robert - who is also a brilliant cook - to help them, but their untidy domesticity soon becomes even messier when fissures around sexual fidelity are suddenly exposed in their relationship.
Elyot would go on to more formally inventive and deeply felt plays like his defining masterpiece My Night with Reg, which is one of the great plays about gay experience under the looming spectre of AIDS. But Coming Clean is an intimate and occasionally piercing study of how relationships come under fatal strain.
It's also a frank and penetrating play (in every sense), but it is played with longing and feeling. Watching Lee Knight's Tony, as the seemingly contented life he has curated collapses around him, is full of a sense of raw regret that pulses with pain. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as his taciturn, undemonstrative lover Greg, and Tom Lambert as the blonde and bright-eyed boy who comes between them, provide revealing portraits men pursuing their own selfish needs regardless of consequences. Completing the cast is Elliot Hadley, who doubling as Tony's best friend William and also a casual German pick-up, provides both the play's comic centre but also, in turns out, a possible threat.
Coming Clean tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander