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Coming Clean (Susan Elkin reviews)

Coming Clean
By Kevin Elyot. Produced by King’s Head Theatre
society/company: West End & Fringe
performance date: 10 Jan 2020
venue: Trafalgar Studios 2, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY

(LtoR) Lee Knight as Tony, Elliot Hadley as William, Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as Greg, Jonah Rzeskiewicz as Robert in COMING CLEAN. Photo: Ali Wright


Kevin Elyot’s frank 1982 play is hilarious in places (“A quick blast of The Magic Flute and you’d be up me like a rat up a drain”) although I think, 35 years on, it’s time to get beyond thinking that gay sex is funny simply because we have dared to mention or show it.

Two men share a flat. They have a nearby friend who is more camply outrageous than either of them. Then they employ a cleaner, who’s actually an out-of-work actor – cue for a titter or two on press night with a lot of theatre professionals in the audience. Elyot meant, presumably, to highlight the difficulties faced by these men only fifteen years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

For me the real poignancy lies in the knowledge that they are enjoying (sort of) one night stands as a way of life. “We’ve shared each other around half the gay scene in London” one of them observes. By early 1987 the government was so worried about the then incurable aids that it delivered a warning leaflet to every household in the country. Realistically most of these four characters would have been dead within the decade.

As drama it’s pretty taut. Cracks soon develop in the central relationship because, it transpires, fidelity does matter after all. It’s a strong cast working adeptly together under Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s direction. Lee Knight is exceptionally good as Tony: sardonic, crisp, devastated, anguished, reasonable, vulnerable and a lot more. It’s very finely nuanced acting which never looks or feels like pretence. Elliot Hadley is enjoying himself as the posturing William (and later briefly as the dour leather clad one night stand, Jurgen). Hadley makes sure we see the character’s brittle underlying sadness too, though, and the scene after he’s been beaten up is hard hitting.

Stanton Plummer-Cambridge finds warmth and rationality along with unpredictability in Greg and Jonah Rzeskiewicz, a recent RADA graduate, brings a lot of sensitivity to Robert.

The play benefits from being staged in a small space so that it becomes a quasi immersive experience. It’s very much of its time and it’s hard at times to decide whether it’s a period play or just plain dated – some of the set details (designer Amanda Mascarenhas) are evocative though: the wall phone with dial and the record player with vinyl, for example.

Elliot Hadley as Jürgen & Lee Knight as Tony in COMING CLEAN. Photo: Ali Wright

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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