My Night With Reg was actually a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon spent in excellent company at the Donmar Warehouse.
Playwright Kevin Elyot, who died just as Reg was going into rehearsal, would have been delighted at this fresh and witty revival of his 1994 award-winning comedy.
The dialogue is sharp and brilliantly observed while what is unsaid speaks volumes. It is so welcoming to watch an intelligent play that doesn’t spell out every nuance and intention.
The six characters are all gay men in the 1990s who live their lives in the shadow of AIDS.
They nearly all have healthy sex lives (except Guy, but we’ll come to him in a moment) but shut their minds to the possibility that the disease will ever touch them.
The unseen Reg is talked about and, ultimately, “known” by pretty much everyone – but never makes an appearance.
There are no cliches or stereotypes and, despite the subject, nothing but sparkling and funny moments that illuminate this black comedy in its darkest moments.
It’s Guy’s flat-warming party and he’s invited his old university friends to a civilised get-together.
Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) is lovely but plain, plump and bespectacled with a huge amount of floppy hair that he regularly sweeps out of his eyes.
Terrified of AIDS he has remained alone but the copywriter is a great cook, a marvellous host, and offers shoulder that eventually everyone cries on.
Secretly his one great passion is an unrequited love for the uni heartthrob John (Julian Ovenden) who he has invited after not seeing for nearly a decade.
John is the first to arrive while Brummie painter and part-time barman Eric (Lewis Reeves) finishes off the conservatory.
The public schoolboy hasn’t done anything with his life except live on his parents’ inheritance. He smokes and drinks a great deal, is still devilishly handsome and impervious to Guy’s lingering glances.
Flamboyant art dealer Dan (Geoffrey Streatfeild), who is in a long-term relationship with Reg, drops by before flitting off on a trip.
Finally the odd couple – bus driver Benny (Matt Bardock) and his partner Bernie (Richard Cant) arrive.
It’s an evening of awkward silences, a lot of drinking, and remembrances.
As the story moves forward it turns out that Reg has been through almost everyone like a dose of salts leaving some more devastated than others.
There are unexpected bleak moments in the story that are heart-breaking while the group’s tangled relationships frequently leave you laughing, crying, moved and uplifted.
You want to hug Broadbent’s Guy and slap John around the face; long for Eric to perhaps make it with Guy; for Dan to learn the truth about his lover and for Reg’s rampant promiscuity not to have such terrible consequences.
My Night With Reg isn’t just a gay play. It’s a story of friendships, love, betrayal and life whether it is between gay or straight people.
It’s sharply directed by Robert Hastie (though perhaps a little too reliant on the drinks cabinet as a prop), beautifully acted by the entire cast, and wonderfully written. What a magnificent tribute to the memory of its creator.
My Night With Reg runs at the Donmar Warehouse until September 27.