Thursday, 10 August 2017

Theatre review: Coming Clean

Right now you can bookend Kevin Elyot’s playwriting career by travelling one stop on the Victoria Line: As the run ends on his final play, Twilight Song, in Finsbury Park, over in Islington the King’s Head revives his 1982 debut, Coming Clean; and taken together they do make it look like My Night With Reg was, if not a fluke, at least an outlier. American writer and lecturer Greg (Jason Nwoga) and lazy wannabe writer Tony (Lee Knight) have been together for five years and are happy together if a bit set in their ways. These ways do include a bit of extramarital action, though – we’re in the pre-AIDS era here and they’ve got an agreement that they can sleep with other people as long as it’s confined to one-night stands. This gets complicated when they hire an unemployed actor, Robert (Tom Lambert) as a house cleaner, and Greg’s apparent impatience with him conceals an attraction.

Coming Clean deals with a story of infidelity and relationships that’s been told many times before, but its very banality must have been groundbreaking in 1982, putting this well-worn scenario into a gay context.

This comes complete with a background of clubs and cruising, a world most embraced by Tony’s single friend William (an entertaining Elliot Hadley,) who visits regularly with tales of his sexual exploits, as well as after getting queer-bashed by a hook-up. It’s very much a period piece now and, especially early on, suffers from this: The attempt to set this up as a comedy that goes sour are crippled by jokes that have either dated badly or feel tame now, and Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production creaks under them. The performances are mixed as well, with Nwoga the most assured performer in a trickily unlikeable role, but Knight’s not natural casting as the more effeminate partner and tends to resort to CAPSLOCK ACTING to compensate. Although at least he’s bucked his own trend as a professional nudist, this time passing theFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!duties to the pretty Lambert.

There’s some messiness to the plotting and predictability to the twists that marks this out as a first attempt (if they’re strapped for cash and Tony says all he does is cook and clean, why did they hire a cleaner? And why is the house still filthy?) And with knowledge of some of Elyot’s other work this definitely fits into his lifelong overall theme of “The Gays, UGH!” Still, Spreadbury-Maher’s production is well-paced and the two hours pass surprisingly quickly, and if it’s not revelatory it’s not dull.

Coming Clean by Kevin Elyot is booking until the 26th of August at the King’s Head Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

Photo credit: Paul Nicholas Dyke.

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