‘Greg and Tony are celebrating 5 years of an enviably stable relationship. Tony decides it’s high time they had some help around the house. The arrival of Robert, cleaner and out of work actor sets off a chain reaction of domestic crises which first test and then undermines the relationship.’
Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean is a look at a ‘stable’ homosexual relationship and the darker world in which they live. Talks of one night stands, a quicky in the local cottage (toilet) and an acceptance that they are faithful to each other as long as they do not ‘do it’ in the flat seems to be the bedrock of this relationship. It is no wonder that it goes horribly wrong as soon as a young buck arrives to be their cleaner. This is the first point that does not hold up and makes the writing of the situation contrived. Apart from a dirty ashtray, there were no signs of this abode needing a ‘domestic’. So it is to the cliché of ‘have a man around once a week to clean out my pipes’. This rather dated construct sits within the 80s phenomena of the Pink Pound and I am not sure that the play really works, or has much to say for an audience of today. It is really hard to sympathise with characters that are reaping what they sow. Maybe it is the old tale of ‘never on your own doorstep’; but it feels rather contrived and attempts to be sensational without really hitting the mark. The work on stage by the actors seemed to be mixed with first night nerves and a lack of believability about their surroundings and actions. Indeed, the play did not really start until the second act when Tony and Greg had a beautiful scene of confrontation peppered with love and regret. But this is not enough to sustain the slow two and half hours that was the production. I am sure this will tighten up as time moves on but it did feel like an early dress rather than a first night.
I do not mean to be hard here as it does take a great amount of courage to do a full-on gay sex scene while trying to place dialogue and clues – and the odd whisper in the ear of the receiver! But there is more to a relationship and the breakdown than naked bodies carefully placed to avoid maximum embarrassment. Further, the clichés are played out even more by having men play ‘gay men’. Of course they should act them, but that is the point: act not play. What we were given, in the main, were homosexuals as straight men saw them – this led to an affected performance and play – not affected in the right way I hasten to add.
All that said, Tony (Jonathan Peters) was excellent as the long-suffering – in more ways than one – partner of Greg (Neil Collie). Peters has an assuredness and a sense of where he had come from; playing angst and comedy with confidence and a soft touch. Collie, in his sultry moments, really did show a man in inner turmoil of love and the need for lust, but there was very little overall colour to this performance which left him rather cold to the audience and, ultimately, unsympathetic to us as well. William (Lee Tearell), Robert (Matt Burgess) were archetypes that never really brought anything more than the words on the page. I really do believe that they did not have a history before this play as they just did not seem to fit. By that I mean – they did not come from anywhere and resulted in a stereotypes.
After saying all this, it is odd now that I say the arrival of Jurgen (Kevin Lehane), a mad German, sex-obsessed one-nighter, did we really get a feel for the ‘playing of the moment’ with a past, present and future. Peters and Lehane managed, in this brief scene, to play the humour and the darker side of the need for love, lust or quick shag. The moments observed here by the actors were stunning. If that kind of detail had been overlaid to the rest of the play, directed by John White, I am sure this dated model to homosexual representation would have had a better chance of engaging the audience. As it was, the overall affect on me was adequate, but in no way stimulating or informative.
This is a night out for those who enjoyed the plays of the 80s Pink Pound drama and are prepared to give it a chance to see if it works today. As I have said, this production did not work for me but that does not stop my admiration for the company to have a go at a very difficult play. Sex and flippant innuendo is not enough – at some point there has to be substance.
Gene David Kirk