Kevin Elyot’s first play Coming Clean was first performed at the Bush Theatre back in 1982 and it was not until 1994 that he came to real prominence with his west end hit My Night With Reg. But without the sharp and frank Coming Clean paving the way much queer theatre might never have happened. The raw content, graphic detailing and taboo subject matter makes this an important work and even more so as it appeared as the global AIDS pandemic was suddenly emerging.
Returning to it now, some 40 years on, is a timely reminder of just how far we have come, not only with the progress made in the treatment of HIV but also in how differently the LGBTQ+ community is represented in the worlds of entertainment and media.
Brighton Little Theatre has an amazingly open approach to programming and this new production has many of the excellent qualities that they bring to their work. Production values are once again high and the piece is delivered with energy and honesty, warnings that the piece contains nudity and representations of sexual activity are no doubt a necessary caveat in marketing, but they are so essential in making the play work, and they are handled so well. There is no leaning towards sensationalising them but just the bare facts that they were pretty much the norm back then – and are to this day.
The cast deal with that element of the work with simple frankness, it happens so there it is. That’s never easy to watch and no doubt even harder to pull off, but they do it.
The play is very much about the nature of queer relationships and about fidelity, about the concept of open relationships and about love and whether the two can exist side by side. Steven Adams plays William, the promiscuous neighbour who spends his life cruising for sex and without any sense of shame. It’s a comic portrayal, brash and camp but occasionally running fast and swallowing the lines and the gags. Chris Church is Tony, the struggling half of a relationship where his lover is the more successful party in many ways, financially and in terms of achievement. He plays the part well, there is self doubt and brittle fragility. His lover Greg is played by Leigh Ward with a sense of self satisfied maturity and arrogance, his love for Tony is there yes, but on his terms. And those terms become far more troubling when the young actor Robert, played by Morgan Corby, enters their world. Robert is gentle, sweet and at the start seemingly innocent and Corby handles the part with style, his delicate delivery making a striking contrast to the more confident and experienced characters into whose world he arrives.
This is, for so many reasons, an important play, and it is great to see BLT including it in their excellent programme. At times I felt that the pace was too frenetic, and at times too shouty, but all in all this is great stuff and a credit to director Bradley Coffey and the whole team.
Brighton Little Theatre