Brighton Year-Round 2024
Kevin Elyot’s debut Coming Clean is the plot for S Asher Gelman’s famous 2017 Afterglow. Except it was written 35 years earlier. Don’t miss it.
The world’s changing; here it seems one of adjustment. But homophobia lurks, and worse is to come. Elyot’s not produced a climactic dramaturgy to end each act: there’s a little slackness: a superior Play for today. But it’s still ground-breaking, the dialogue sparkles, and this production humanises the five characters with all the BLT’s sterling production values. A must-see for anyone interested in the theatre of the past 40-odd years.
Directed by Bradley Coffey, Stage Manager Rosalind Caldwell, ASM/Make-Up Rosa Alempour, DSM Philip Bremner
Set Design and Construction and Decoration Steven Adams, Set Construction Painting and Scenic Painting Tom Williams, Set Painting Allison Williams
Lighting/Sound Design & Operation Beverley Grover
Costumes Bradley Coffey, the Cast
Special Thanks to Joseph Bentley, Tess Gill, Jenny Davys for the loan pf the hoover
Till February 3rd
“Big, hairy, brutal, verging on the psychopathic. Just your type.” So early-thirties Tony’s telling friend-and-neighbour William but it’s true for struggling writer Tony and his five-year partner Greg too, a famous American one. Let other men pass through in one one-night stands. But their five years together has one rule the promiscuous William could never follow: no repeats, no falling in love.
Kevin Elyot’s debut Coming Clean unnervingly follows the plot for S Asher Gelman’s famous 2017 Afterglow. Except it was written 35 years earlier and packs more surprise. Don’t miss it.
In a month when the justly famous Afterglow has a second run at the Southwark in four-and-half-years, it’s salutary we regard its excellence as groundbreaking: even in 2017 actors still hesitated. In November 1982 at the Bush, Coming Clean picked up the Samuel Beckett Award and Elyot went on to uproar in 1994 with his masterpiece My Night With Reg.
I missed Coming Clean’s 2019/2020 revivals at Trafalgar Studios but director Bradley Coffey was entranced and for good reason. This is a first play, the faintest storm of AIDS might rumble at the end; the work’s now dedicated to one of its victims. The cumulative, shattering power of My Night With Reg might not be there, but the idiom, the confident rules and total ease of men loving and lusting arrives fully-formed. This is the ur-text or ah-text.
Tony (Chris Church) chides outré Bradfordian William (Steven Adams, much later also Jurgen) for his phenomenal stamina; it gets William into very literal scrapes later on – shout-out to ASM and make-up artist Rosa Alempour. Adams here truly extends his range with an up-volume performance bordering on a few decibels higher than the Mozart or Schubert played on Greg’s hi-fi (Adams’ set we’ll come to: but those record sleeves are astonishingly sourced; talk about high-fidelity).
Church’s Tony is both youthful but serious, proud of his love, whom we find he’d determined to have. Later-thirties Greg’s quite a prize, hugely admired for his ‘out’ books (think a less gentle Edmund White). Church stylishly shows Tony’s loyalty (and crucially, not his own take-homes). It upends the traditional younger man’s restlessness, as we speculate what he – and later Greg – might make of the couple’s new cleaner.
Greg (Leigh Ward) though when we meet him last of all (except Jurgen) exudes a snappy, jaded short-fused New Englander whom others almost tiptoe round. Ward rasps this writer’s status, cursory acceptance of adulation when introduced by Tony to new 25-year-old actor/cleaner Robert (Morgan Corby). Who makes too much noise with a hoover, or even duster.
Corby’s deft and attractive Robert starts like William as a little stereotypical in Elyot’s depiction. Indeed a just-passing William is the first obstacle Robert has to swerve as William outrageously flirts with him. Corby’s great naturalness after a while transcends this as he charms Tony and shows himself a huge admirer of curmudgeonly Greg’s work.
There’s a neat plot-point at the end of Act One and reveal in Act Two. Expect nudity (not on the sheer scale of Afterglow) and some surprise. I’m not sure the latter’s entirely earned – one can see why Elyot decided on this course though. And in Jurgen expect some rather fluent German and up-tight leather in Adams’ magnificent lightning-sketch.
The Kentish Town room’s shabby-genteel, with detailed books and early 1980s posters dotting the walls, bookcase upstage and right of that period hi-fi and records, sofa, bijou circular dining table where Greg tries to write (fat chance), frayed stylishness casually colliding with lack of care. Adams and Tom Williams have between them replicated a superb set with one of the best window-views – looking on redbrick townhouses – I can remember. Beverley Grover’s sound and often tenebrous lighting is exemplary.
There’s a sense of love adjusting, limits of where it can; of the new mores in sexually free but stable partnerships. Above all the way gay relationships begin to gain wider acceptance – with Greg’s parents. And there’s the world of Shrewsbury Robert leaves and the Protestant-Catholic family christenings Tony flees from.
The world’s changing; here it seems one of adjustment. But homophobia lurks, and worse is to come. Elyot’s not yet produced a dramaturgy to end each act: there’s a little slackness: a superior Play for Today. But it’s still ground-breaking, the dialogue sparkles, and this production humanises the five characters with all the BLT’s sterling production values. A must-see for anyone interested in the theatre of the past 40-odd years.