Coming Clean - Trafalgar Studios
A 1980s set goes with this 1980s play, with seemingly 1980s values. Coming Clean must be one of the few plays set in that era (“the action takes place,” the script tells the reader, “between April to October 1982”) devoid of any references to the Thatcher Government, let alone Thatcher-bashing. The walls are stained with the effects of cigarette smoke. Somewhere on YouTube (and indeed other places online) there are videos in which a group of teenagers are set the challenge of dialling a number using a rotary telephone. It’s hilarious for anyone old enough to remember them: here, the characters just get on with it. Greg (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge) even complains about someone ringing off after ‘only’ eight rings. And it would have been a genuine call as well, most likely, and not an automated call centre service ringing numbers even when there is no human available in said call centre.
As they sing in Bat Out of Hell The Musical, “It was long ago, it was far away / It was so much better than it is today.” When the gregarious (if slightly irritating) William (Elliot Hadley) is three hours late for an evening to mark the fifth anniversary of the relationship between Greg and Tony (Lee Knight, whose mum happened to be in the audience at the performance I attended), they only find out what happened when he finally does turn up. This sort of thing is all very real, all well within living memory, and is indicative of how life has become so radically different in the era of social media and the ubiquity of mobile telephony.
The time warp thing is not, of course, the salient point in this production, which is really about the consequences of having a relationship that is only too happy to function – thrive, even – with ‘friends with benefits’. Tony decides to get a cleaner in – both he and Greg are writers, and with Greg also teaching (presumably post-16, as he can’t understand why most of his students are even doing the course they have elected to do, such is their apathy), it falls to Tony to do whatever domestic chores can be done. Enter Robert (Tom Lambert), what the gay community would call a ‘twink’. The audience is given a health warning about nudity before the doors to the auditorium are opened: working out what happens is not exactly rocket science.
It is a sort of unwritten regulation, however, whether by default or by design (I couldn’t quite work out which) that Greg and Tony do not sleep with the same ‘other’, a rule broken when Robert, an actor who has taken on other jobs to pay the bills (oh! How certain things never change!), cultured and articulate, comes along. It’s left open-ended as to whether Greg and Tony’s relationship survives – though the lines of communication between them continue to flow, so I would have thought it would have done. There is a lot of acerbic humour in this play, in which actors are not well portrayed. The sort of abuse (gay-bashing, even) that William in particular encounters could feasibly have happened today, a generation later, in a supposedly more progressive and tolerant society: quite an indictment on today’s world. Worth seeing.