The King’s Head Theatre’s production of Kevin Elyot’s debut play has transferred to the West End, finding a cosy new home at Trafalgar Studios.
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the events of Coming Clean unfold in the early 1980s yet many of its themes still feel incredibly relevant. Set in a flat in Kentish Town, it tells the story of Tony (Lee Knight) and Greg (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge), who have been in a committed, open relationship for five years. They haven’t quite defined all the rules of their open relationship, however, which complicates matters when their strikingly beautiful cleaner, Robert (Tom Lambert) begins working for them. Completing the cast is Elliot Hadley in the dual role of best-friend William and one of Tony’s hook-ups, Jurgen.
First performed in 1982, elements of Coming Clean are understandably dated, although not in a detrimental way. It’s refreshing to see an honest portrayal of gay life and culture before the HIV/AIDS crisis took its full effect; it’s amusing to see the characters consider Tufnell Park as a rough area of London, where William claims to be slumming it; the concept of 90p being expensive for a pint of beer elicits a laugh from the audience.
Being Elyot’s debut play, some of the writing may not be as sophisticated and mature as his later work, but there’s plenty here to enjoy. There are numerous excellent one-liners and it’s enjoyable to see how candidly and openly the characters are talking about sex, given how taboo these types of conversations would have been at the time. While this may be set in a world before swiping right, Tony’s and William’s frequent trips to discos and cruising spots captures the very current feeling of ever-present temptation.
The quality of the acting is strong throughout. We were particularly taken with Lee Knight’s moments of subtlety, with a huge amount conveyed simply with a glare or a momentary pause. Elliot Hadley was strong as William, too – a role that could so easily have fallen into the trap of being one-dimensional is portrayed with touching sensitivity and nuance, especially in a scene following a violent encounter.
There is much to enjoy in this production of Coming Clean. It may not be as well known as Elyot’s masterpiece My Night With Reg, but it’s certainly a showcase of his early potential. It’s also an entertaining and enjoyable snapshot of early ’80s gay culture, with some expert direction and impressive acting throughout. Highly recommended.
Gay Times gives Coming Clean –★★★★☆
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