Coming Clean – Review

Jason Nwoga & Lee Knight in Coming Clean. Images Paul Nicholas Dyke

With the 50th anniversary of the legalisation of male homosexuality in Britain the work of gay playwright, Kevin Elyot, is enjoying a revival.

While London’s Park Theatre stages the premiere of the writer’s final work, Twilight Song, the smaller, more intimate King’s Head Theatre is showcasing his debut play, the 1982, award-winning Coming Clean.

Fresh, achingly funny, Coming Clean, looks at love and loss, gay manners and morals, pre-AIDs, when fidelity and commitment in homosexual relationships were tested.

At the heart of the story is Tony and Greg who have been living together for five years, committed to each other yet with the understanding that either may occasionally have sex on the side.

This works well for Tony who enjoys going out cruising with his neighbour and night owl, the flamboyant William.

They hit the discos and bars, looking for casual sex during an era when AIDs and HIV was only just being whispered about.

But college lecturer Greg appears to be acting as the responsible one. The main breadwinner, a respected author, he flits between New York and London, at home in both cities.

Tony has decided to hire a cleaner so that he can concentrate on getting his own writing career off the ground and not have to spend his time doing housework – though you could hardly call him houseproud looking at the state of the set.

Amanda Mascarenhas’ design is far from gay chic. The Kentish Town flat enjoys grubby peeling wallpaper, tatty furniture and a tiny galley kitchen decorated with one of Warhol’s Marilyn prints.

The floor is littered with festering socks and dirty clothes and the table with overfull ashtray and dirty plates.

So Robert, (Tom Lambert looking uncomfortably like a young Prince William, pre hair loss), is sorely needed.

The shy-looking, rather young and naive, actor fills in the time when he’s not working by hiring himself out as a domestic goddess – Robert that is, not Tom.

But it soon becomes clear that young Robert, who at one point is seen sashaying across the stage without a stitch on (William in naked romp shocker, what a thought), proves a cuckoo in the nest, putting Greg and Tony’s relationship under pressure.

As a side story we also see the drawbacks to cruising for casual sex when poor William is beaten up by a leatherclad sadist.

I really enjoyed Elliot Hadley’s funny, pleasure-seeking hedonist William with his northern frankness and honesty, and it’s a pity Elyot never gave him his own spin-off comedy. He’s a beautifully written character.

William enjoys living life to the full, burning the candle at both ends. His full description of how he came to find himself handcuffed and under attack is both comical and shocking.

Lee Knight gives a fine turn as the needy and demanding Tony. He’s a complicated person, wanting the security of a long-term partner but reluctant to give up his freedom, insecure and unsure of his role in life, and Knight makes the most of it.

The only common interest he shares with Jason Nwoga’s dour Greg is a love of classical music – and Village People.

This revival of Coming Clean is a bold and lively bittersweet comedy-drama, its dialogue is acutely funny and sharply observed.

Playing at the King’s Head Theatre as part of its 2017 Queer Season, Coming Clean runs until August 26.

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