This year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the King’s Head Theatre is staging a seminal work by the acclaimed playwright Kevin Elyot to celebrate the milestone, writes Nicky Sweetland.
Elyot – who is perhaps best known for his 1994 work My Night With Reg – wrote his first play, Coming Clean, 35 years ago and the production at the admired Islington venue is the first major revival in London since it opened at the Bush Theatre in 1982.
Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the Artistic Director of the King’s Head, has chosen to headline the theatre’s Queer Season with Elyot’s play and gathered a stellar cast, which includes Lee Knight (Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, Savage, Arts Theatre), the Royal Shakespeare company’s Jason Nwoga and Elliot Hadley, who took some time out from rehearsals to tell me about how the preparations are going.
“We’re in the room on our own today so it’s really intense; there’s so much to think about, but it’s going really well.” Elliot tells me during a break for lunch and this is not the first time the actor has been part of an important piece of LGBT theatre, as he was instrumental in the conception and progression of the multi award-winning play Five Guys Chillin’.
The play – which was performed at the Brighton Fringe, the Dublin Gay Arts Festival and even Off-Broadway as well as at the King’s Head – was critically acclaimed, with Elliot not only performing as part of the cast, but also helping to ensure it was published and eventually becoming an associate director when it returned to the King’s Head last year.
“Going from the very early stages, to acting in it, getting it published, winning awards and then to become one of the creatives was a really fulfilling and humbling process.” Elliot told me, “It’s been such a big part of my career and my life as well because a lot of the issues are really prevalent in the community at the moment and it’s nice to give a voice to them.”
In contrast, Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean was written at a time when gay culture and Aids were barely discussed in the UK. It was therefore noted for the candid writing style and Elliot explains, “It’s about two people trying to make it work and what’s great about the play is that it’s not the fact that they are gay. It’s just about relationships; about love and fidelity and it asks those questions.”
The play follows Tony and Greg, who are in an open relationship, but the boundaries of their faithfulness have never been established or tested until a young attractive twink comes on the scene. “The rules have never really been spoken”.
Elliot plays Tony’s best friend and confident William and tells me, “He’s a working class mate who provides a bit of comic relief; he’s witty, he’s direct. He comes around and has a brew and a chat and talks about his shenanigans.”
Written 12 years before his most famous play, My Night With Reg, Coming Clean won Elyot the Samuel Beckett Award for writers showing particular promise in the field of the performing arts.
Elliot said, “The whole play is extremely funny, really witty and razor-sharp. It sort of reminds me of sitcoms I used to watch with my parents when I was younger. It’s hilarious but it will pull on a few heartstrings as well with the themes it covers. I think there’ll be a few tears shed.”
Kevin Elyot’s writing is known to be semi-autobiographical and covers three very distinct phases of his life. His final play, Twilight Song is also being staged in London this summer at Park Theatre.
“This year celebrates 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK so we’ve got two Elyot plays on at the same time, which is going to be brilliant for audiences.”
Photo by Paul Nicholas Dyke