A bittersweet comedy about a group of gay men coming to terms with AIDS is coming to Birmingham in July.

Written by the late Brummie playwright Kevin Elyot, the multi-award winning play is back on stage in a sensational new production at The Crescent theatre, but with a special twist.

My Night With Reg – the Olivier and Evening Standard award-winning play which makes its long-awaited appearance at the city venue – is directed by Rod Natkiel who was a friend of Kevin Elyot, a fellow drama student and who acted with him.

The play traces the story, from the summer of 1985, of six gay men in London as their world begins to unravel because of the AIDS epidemic. Three of the characters were at university  together twelve years previously and those characters and their memories are strongly based on  people and life at Bristol university in Kevin Elyot’s and Rod Natkiel’s time there as Drama students.

My Night with Reg explores the lives of six gay men in London as their world begins to unravel because of the AIDS epidemicHandout
My Night with Reg explores the lives of six gay men in London as their world begins to unravel because of the AIDS epidemic

The characters are beautifully observed and range from Guy, the perfect gentleman who’s suffering  from almost 15 years of unrequited love for John (who is anyway having an illicit affair with his own best friend’s boyfriend) to Benny, who’s got a monumental chip on his shoulder and is perpetually angry and foul-mouthed – and Benny’s boyfriend, Bernie, whose doubts and anxieties are wrecking his mental health. Daniel is the outrageously flamboyant one of the pack but early in the play suffers  tragedy which de-rails him.

And then there’s Eric, the naïve Brummie 18-year-old who’s just moved down to London and, whilst coping with sorting out his own sexuality, finds this group’s lifestyle bewildering and their promiscuity upsetting. 

Each of these characters, other than Guy, has had his “night (or several nights) with Reg”, unknown to the others, and the consequences are dreadful and far reaching. But even Guy has his own tragedy, brought about by appalling cruelty.

At Guy’s flat, friends gather to party but their world is about to change forever. The years ahead and the AIDS crisis will soon take a terrible toll.

My Night With Reg starts joyously until the dark threat in the background, under which these men are living, begins to materialise and the tone changes. This latest rendition promises an unexpected twist as a local cast are set to take the reins of a classic.

Reg, who is mentioned in the title, is not an actual character in the play but the whole plot revolves around his apparent promiscuity and the chain reaction of deception and betrayal set off by it. Similarly, AIDS is not explicitly mentioned throughout the play but its impact is vital to the story.

The production pull no punches either. If you can handle passionate male-on-male intimacy, nudity and some gutter language, then this’ll be right up your street.

Kevin Elyot and Rod Natkiel

The late playwright Kevin Elyot was born and raised in Handsworth in BirminghamHandout
The late playwright Kevin Elyot was born and raised in Handsworth in Birmingham

Playwright Kevin Elyot, who died in 2014, was born in Handsworth in Birmingham and went to King Edwards School. Kevin acted in school plays, played piano and sang in church choirs before going to Bristol University, where he studied Drama.

“I was a teenager when homosexuality was decriminalised. I certainly wasn’t bullied at school, so I think I was very lucky. I was probably wearing rose-tinted spectacles at the time – it was the Sixties after all,” he once commented.

He graduated in 1973 and began acting, before moving onto writing. His first play as a writer was Coming Clean, an explicit depiction of the eternal triangle, winning Elyot the 1982 Samuel Beckett Award.

Kevin later wrote My Night with Reg, produced in 1994 by the Royal Court Theatre in London, directed by Roger Michell. The production later transferred to the West End where it garnered multiple awards.

Rod Natkiel also studied Drama at Bristol University. He is a professional director who works pro bono for The Crescent, with previous  productions there being For Services Rendered, The Laramie Project, The Lovely Bones and, recently, a spectacular 5-star reviewed The Girl on The Train.

Former BBC Pebble Mill head Rod Natkiel was a friend of Kevin Elyot Supplied
Former BBC Pebble Mill head Rod Natkiel was a friend of Kevin Elyot

Rod has also had a long association with arts and entertainment in the region, having been responsible for all BBC Pebble Mill’s network television and radio output for seven years in the late 1990s and he was Chair of West Midlands Arts for four years, helping to secure funding for the Crescent’s new building which opened during his tenure.

Rod Natkiel said: “It’s a little spooky not only to be 90% sure of who the real people were on whom the characters in the play are based, but also because of the memories that come flooding back  through references and moments in the play.

“But the most important thing is that this is a masterfully  crafted and thought-provoking play that causes havoc with an audience’s emotions as it bounces  from heart-breaking tragedy to brilliant comedy. There are many moments that are outrageously  funny and several others when it’s very, very hard not to cry.” 

“This is a play that, for many years, I’ve wanted to direct, not just because of  my connection to Kevin Elyot and the friends reflected in the characters, though that is very  important to me, but because I consider it a consummate piece of writing by a master of his craft.

“It  tackles important themes which are perpetual and universal and it manages to punctuate moments  of hilarity with stabs of acute pain. To do it justice demands a top class cast and team, and we have  just that for this production. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be working with them.”

My Night With Reg runs in the Ron Barber Studio at The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, from  July 8th to July 15th 2023. For more information and tickets, click here.

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