“Coming Clean” at Turbine Theatre

Mark Shenton in south London
8 April 2024

The late Kevin Elyot wrote only a handful of plays, but they blazed a trail for confident, complex, and moving portraits of gay life. His best known was My Night with Reg, a tender, surprising portrait of gay friendships over a number of years, and the shadows cast by HIV on all of them. It premiered at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in 1994, and subsequently transferred to the West End – a route also followed by a 2014 revival at the Donmar Warehouse.


Alexander Hulme and Theo Walker.
Photo credit: Mark Senior.


The Royal Court also provided a home for two more of his plays on its main stage, Mouth to Mouth (2001) and Forty Winks (2004), with another title premiering at the National (The Day I Stood Still in 1998).

But it was at another new writing theatre that his playwriting career first began, after previously appearing there as an actor. Coming Clean premiered at the Bush Theatre in 1982, and offered a then rare but starkly revealing portrait of the stresses and pressures of non-monogamous gay coupledom, presented with a Cowardesque wit, but also unostentatious honesty and integrity.

Tony, an aspiring English writer, lives with his more successful American partner Greg, already a published author, in a flat in north London. The play opens with a scene of contented domesticity, as Tony and his best friend William (who regularly accompany each other for nights on the town, and the pull) await the arrival of a young actor Robert who is offering to provide cleaning services to Tony and Greg. Though initially reluctant, both for the cost (a whopping £10, a little detail that easily tells us we’re not in the present) and the disruption to his work day, Greg warms to Robert after he caters a fifth anniversary dinner for them.

It may be obvious what direction this is headed in, but I won’t offer any spoilers here. Except to say that while previous productions – including a lovely 2020 revival that played at the Trafalgar Studios in 2020 after transferring from the King’s Head – offered copious amounts of male nudity, this is a far more discreet production in every sense, all flesh-coloured underwear and dressing gowns. But the emotional undressing in Andrew Beckett’s warm but slightly tentative production is still richly revealing, as each character exposes their needs and insecurities.

While the performances are broader and less subtle than I’ve seen previously, the characters are still so well written that it’s a pleasure to be in their company again. Sam Goodchild’s bitchily flippant William provides most of the comic motor for the evening, while Yannick Budd does nicely with Tony’s needy sense of insecurity and bashfulness. Theo Walker bring an appealing vulnerability to Robert, while Alexander Hulme completes the cast as the mostly unknowable Greg.

Designer David Shields offers a handsomely cosy lounge setting to take us into the play’s intimate world. This remains a landmark gay play, even if some of its harder edges appear to have been blunted.