an adaptation of Russian literature in the Donmar Warehouse's consistently eclectic programming. First seen in 1994 and surprisingly rarely revived since, Kevin Elyot's My Night With Reg was a breakthrough as a play with all-gay characters that became a West End hit and is, certainly among those I've seen, one of the best of the late-'80s and '90s plays dealing with the impact of AIDS (a disease that's never named here.) Elyot's tragicomedy is at heart the story of three friends who were close at university, but in the decade or so since graduating haven't been great at staying in touch: Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) is having a housewarming for the flat he's just moved into alone, and has invited John (Julian Ovenden,) after a chance meeting. He doesn't expect John to show up but he does, awkwardly reigniting the unrequited love Guy always had for him.
Never actually appearing on stage, the Reg of the title is the partner of the third member of the group: The camp and ebullient Daniel's (Geoffrey Streatfeild) job often sees him leaving the country. Devoted to Reg, he has his suspicions that his boyfriend sometimes strays, but doesn't realise the full extent.
Where My Night With Reg proved a departure from other work of the time is that while death and AIDS are always present in the background, they're not what the play is really about. Instead it's a story about love - an often cynical one, as much about the lies love makes people tell as it is about the emotion itself - but one that's told with a lightly comic touch throughout.
Peter McKintosh makes good use of the small Donmar stage to come up with a deceptively airy flat for Guy, whom Broadbent appealingly makes the tragic heart of the story - in a circle of friends whose lives seem to revolve around sex, he's seen as inherently sexless, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the same desires as everyone else. Broadbent delivers the disappointed barbs Elyot gives him without ever coming across as bitter. Streatfeild is also particularly impressive as Daniel, blasting through the first act like a camp force of nature but visibly deflating after losing the love of his life. We get a look at the friends' wider social circle with a mismatched couple, Richard Cant's Bernie a comic bore, his boyfriend Benny (Matt Bardock) more of a boor.
The cast is completed by Eric, a younger gay man lusted after by everyone - initially Guy's painter and decorator, he sticks around on the periphery of his social circle. Lewis Reeves is perhaps not quite the bit-of-rough he's meant to be, but he's sweet and convincing as the misguided romantic. Along with Ovenden, he also has awhere Reeves not only displays plenty to be getting on with, but also then spends the entire remainder of the play in just his underwear.
"Bittersweet" is the word that comes to mind about My Night With Reg, and it's a shame to remember that Elyot's work only got more bitter, his other most famous piece of writing being the horribly self-loathing TV drama Clapham Junction. Hopefully Robert Hastie's production (which plays for two hours without an interval but feels shorter) will restore this as the piece the recently-deceased playwright is best remembered for as, on top of being a landmark gay play when it was written, twenty years later it also proves more universal than other work of the time. It should be revived more frequently, but is unlikely to be done so much better than this.
My Night With Reg by Kevin Elyot is booking until the 27th of September at the Donmar Warehouse.
Running time: 2 hours straight through.