Green Carnation Company Presents: My Night With Reg

A fresh production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, which premiered at London’s Royal Court in 1994, will tour to selected venues across the North and Midlands this spring. Funny, sad and sweet, Elyot’s groundbreaking comedy about the relationships of a group of gay men and their connections to the unseen yet magnetic Reg is a moving exploration of friendship, happiness and love, and their fragility in the shadow of the 1980s Aids crisis. With a cast including performers also about to appear in BoysRussell T Davies’ television drama about the crisis – the production is co-directed and co-produced by Dan Jarvis and Dan Ellis, the artistic directors of Manchester-based Green Carnation Company. Here the former talks about their cinematic style, their online videos addressing various issues faced by queer people, and the lost gay generation.

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Meeting Dan Ellis.

I hit 30 and thought: ‘if I’m ever going to make it as a director, I need to put myself on the line.’ I went and spent the whole day at the National Theatre bookshop, found Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Prideand fell in love with it. Like any millennial, I Instagrammed it, and Dan commented: ‘I love this play, I tried to direct it in Cheshire but the company I was working for felt it was too risqué for their audiences.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do this alone, shall we put it on?’ The Pride was such a success we thought, ‘ok, let’s make this a company.’ Since then we’ve done a piece of new writing with Nick Maynard that looks at class and sexual identity, now we got this touring production which is terrifying and exciting.

 

The Green Carnation name.

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© Sean Longmore

We wanted a name that was simultaneously very true to our being an LGBTQ theatre company, but also one that wasn’t going to put off straight audiences or make it feel like it was very specifically for LGBTQ audiences. We came up with Green Carnation because it was the covert symbol Oscar Wilde used to signify his homosexuality – he wore a green carnation in his buttonhole. If you knew, you knew. But if you didn’t, you just thought it was a nice buttonhole. I guess that’s our ethos as a theatre company: incredibly relevant to LGBTQ audiences, but if you aren’t LGBTQ you can still enjoy a damn good play.

 

My Night With Reg.

My Night With Reg is set in the midst of the Aids crisis. The play spans five years, starting at 1985 – you’ve got those first few years where it’s starting to ripple, to be felt across the community – right up to 1990, when it’s a very real and catastrophic thing. Interestingly, the Aids crisis very much hangs over the whole play and dictates some of the events that happen in it – a character will describe waking up in the morning and checking themselves all over for any lesions, and you know exactly what they are checking – yet it is never overtly mentioned. It’s very cleverly written.

Another interviewer asked us to compare it with The Boys in the Band, the first play to have explicitly gay characters in it. But in The Boys in the Band the characters are so self-hating, particularly in reference to their homosexuality. That’s not the case in My Night With Reg. The characters have a lot of demons, a lot of issues going on, but their homosexuality is not one of them. They’re all proud and comfortable in their homosexuality.

 

Directing.

We always have a very distinct, almost cinematic style to how we direct. The Pride was influenced by Todd Haynes and Douglas Sirk – melodramatic 1950s technicolour films – whereas My Night With Reg is pure 80s; deconstructed set, neon-drenched, synth-y soundtrack. We have a really good track-record of engaging younger audiences who might not necessarily see themselves as theatre-goers but might love cinema and TV. We’re very much trying to continue that theme.

 

Videos.

When we did The Pride, we wanted to engage audiences to think a little bit more on the themes. So, we commissioned videos with the cast and creatives and interviewed audience members. We’re hoping to create another video during the course of this tour, exploring HIV in the eighties-context of the play and now, and how it’s massively changed. We’re working with George House Trust as a charity partner on that, to help us explore it and also disseminate information on what it means to have HIV today and what support there is for people who have been affected by HIV.
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Representations of the Aids crisis.

There’s a real awareness and retrospective look, particularly in theatre, at that area of history. Two years ago we had the huge National Theatre/Marianne Elliott revival of Angels in America, and last year we had The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez which is all about that idea of generational passing down – what do we do with that legacy of the lost gay generation of the Aids crisis, and how are we honouring that part of our history? There’s an oral history which, unless it’s actively kept alive, can run the risk of dying out. It’s through our connections with each other that we need to make sure this history is kept alive. Because if we don’t, who will?

 

Queer theatre recommendations. 

First Time is absolutely brilliant. It’s an autobiographical show from Nathaniel Hall. The first time he had sex at age 16, he contracted HIV. He’s now late twenties/early thirties. It’s about the healing-frustration-anger process he had to go through to get to where he is now. This year I’m hoping to see a lot more queer theatre, and I’ve already got quite a bit lined up. I’m seeing Too Pretty to Punch by Edalia Day and Harry Clayton-Wright’s Sex Education (which I’m told is scandalous).

 

My Night With Reg is at Gala Theatre, Durham 5 March and Warwick Arts Centre 12-14 March.

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