Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play charts the romantic entanglements of a group of gay university friends, now well into their 30s, set against the backdrop of the Aids crisis. It explores issues of love, loss, infidelity and insecurity, and how they are all tainted by the shadow of the disease.
The Donmar’s new production is a warm, touching revival that shows the play is just as effective as an aide-mémoire to those days as it was an immediate reaction to them.
The play is peopled by a host of stereotypes – the eternal bachelor, the owlish singleton, the working class lothario – and has more than its fair share of saucy one-liners (“I was in such a state I poured custard on my quiche”) but Elyot’s characters have a vitality that stops them feeling like caricatures. Apart from their undergraduate days, the thing that binds them together is Reg, a man conspicuous by his absence. Reg gets around a bit. It seems everyone has fallen in love with, or been seduced by, the elusive character.
Time elapses imperceptibly – the characters will appear to have been at the same party, until it’s revealed years have passed – and with them, sadness has turned a little more to despair.
Jonathan Broadbent’s Guy is the glue that holds the play together, always the host, catering to the whims of his guests while silently dealing with crippling emotional issues of his own. He is, you see, in love with John, a Hugh Grant-figure whose rogueish charm is wonderfully captured by Julian Ovenden.‘s Daniel, Reg’s long-term partner, is the final university friend, and his performance stands ahead of them all; his wicked humour is always tinged with sadness and his sadness always masked with humour.
At an hour and fifty minutes (without a break) it’s certainly in no hurry, and it would have benefited with being 20 minutes shorter, but the lightness of the performances is more than enough to carry you through.
First published in City A.M.