Coming Clean Frankly Explores The 'Rules' Of Relationships

Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios ★★★☆☆

By Neil Dowden Last edited 49 months ago

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Coming Clean Frankly Explores The 'Rules' Of Relationships Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios 3
Photo: Ali Wright

The late Kevin Elyot is best known for his West End hit My Night with Reg, a comedy about gay relationships overshadowed by the blight of AIDS.

His debut 1982 play Coming Clean is less accomplished, with characterisation tending towards the stereotypical and some clumsy dialogue. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining piece that offers refreshingly frank insights into sex and love among men in a more carefree time just before the HIV epidemic.

While their friend William seems to want to sleep with as many men as possible, Tony and Greg share a flat in Kentish Town as a committed couple who allow each other to have the occasional one-night stand.
But as they celebrate their fifth anniversary it becomes clear that their passion has cooled and they actually have different priorities: struggling writer Tony is tired of hanging out in clubs and wants cosy domesticity, but New Yorker academic Greg is not ready for monogamy. When they hire unemployed actor Robert as a cleaner, the limits of their relationship are put to the test.

Photo: Ali Wright

With cruising and cottaging rather than Grindr the way to 'hook up' — and a pint of beer costing 90p! — Coming Clean is of its time. But the questioning around fidelity versus sexual freedom remains just as relevant. And the play's explicit talk about gay sex, not to mention full frontal nudity and simulated oral sex, still feels bold and direct.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher's engaging production is backed by a 1980s pop soundtrack. Amanda Mascarenhas's design of a dingy flat that includes a red leather sofa, wall-mounted dial phone and record player convincingly re-creates that era.

Lee Knight shows the emotional vulnerability underlying the amiable Tony, while Stanton Plummer-Cambridge plays the more detached, taciturn Greg. As Robert, Jonah Rzeskiewicz blends naivety with manipulativeness, and the lively Elliot Hadley conveys how William's promiscuous lifestyle leads to both less and more than he bargained for.

Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY, £25-£40. Until 1 February

Last Updated 17 January 2020