Paul T Davies reviews Kevin Elyot’s play Coming Clean which is now playing at Trafalgar Studios 2.
Trafalgar Studio 2
11 January 2019
The reason why Kevin Elyot’s debut play is rarely performed may be that his second play was My Night With Reg, a phenomenal success that cemented, and possibly over shadowed, his play writing career. All praise to this Kings Head Theatre production, transferring into the West End, for staging the play and giving many of us the opportunity to see the template for much of Elyot’s writing. Brutal honesty, acidic one liners, poignancy and even a young man finding his identity through classical music, are all in place here in Elyot’s debut and became his trademark. Coming Clean was first staged in 1982, and the soundtrack plays my youth! Amanda Mascarenhas’s excellent design captures the grubby flat perfectly, and this was a time when every gay man seemed to smoke, and, boy, so they smoke! This production is an assault on the eyes and throat, even if an herbal one!
Tony and Greg have been together for five years and have an open relationship. There are rules, but, providing they stay within them, they can continue as a couple. Neither seems particularly happy though, and Greg is quite a cold, unemotional man, very patronising towards Tony. Then handsome Robert, an out of work actor, is employed as their cleaner and provides the catalyst that exposes the flaws in their arrangement, and the complexities of love and lust. It also dates from a time when people were less uptight about stereotypes, and Tony’ best friend, William, is hilariously camp and, to us now, politically incorrect, played here with glorious abandonment by Elliot Hadley, delivering punch lines with aplomb, his friendship with Tony, (excellent Lee Knight), being the most real and affectionate relationship in the play. Cruising always for rough sex, William is beaten up by a pickup, and his terrified and shocked reaction to this is sensitively played. Hadley also plays a German leather clad bit of trade Tony picks up in the last scene, and, again, there is much humour and poignancy here.
Perhaps because of the way the part is written, I found Stanton Plummer-Cambridge’s Greg a little restrained, emotionally flat, though his duplicity is revealed well. Tom Lambert makes an assured and very promising West End debut as Robert, eternally blushing in the first act, then exposed as quite a calculating character in the second when his five month relationship with Greg is revealed, breaking the main rule of the open relationship. (Actors come off quite badly in this play, much to the joy of the press night audience!)
However, Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s assured production also celebrates the sharpness of Elyot’s writing, the play is, in places, razor sharp, in others, being his first play, a tad over written. But the thing that strikes you most in watching this thirty six year old drama is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The search for love and negotiating relationships, queer bashing, denial and self-homophobia are still sadly pertinent, and the chance to experience Coming Clean is to be welcomed.