Three's a crowd: My Night With Reg
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How Kevin Elyot's Aids farce My Night With Reg became a play for today

Now showing at London's Apollo Theatre, the 1994 play shines even brighter in an age when its characters could marry.

Almost 2,500 years after Sophocles and Euripides, it was hard to come up with a new form of theatre, but a play that premiered in New York in the spring of 1985 did. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart was the first major stage play about Aids. And the 30th anniversary of that landmark drama neatly coincides with a revival of the nearest English equivalent: the Donmar Warehouse’s 20th-birthday production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg transferred on 17 January to the Apollo Theatre in the West End of London.

The decade between the two plays shows in their tone and approach. The Normal Heart was a campaigning work of emergency journalism that was at times an animated article, reporting the story of the discovery of the condition and the slow response by the political, medical and media establishments. The dramatist even co-founded a pressure group called Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

Kramer’s central character, Ned Weeks – first played by Brad Davis and Joel Grey in New York and by Martin Sheen in London – is essentially an interviewer, going into the offices of doctors and others. The Normal Heart feels of its time. The great American play on the subject was written later: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which had the advantage of dealing with the Reagan administration as history rather than news.

If America was slow to respond to the epidemic, Britain was scandalously laggard. An article in the programme for the British premiere of The Normal Heart at the Royal Court in 1986 points out that the Thatcher government reacted only when haemophiliacs became infected by contaminated blood, and education about and funding to treat sexually transmitted HIV were slow to happen. An early, privately printed leaflet on safe sex was impounded by the Metropolitan Police on grounds of obscenity.

Although the infection and death toll in the UK was considerable, with the Terrence Higgins Trust serving as the equivalent here of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the impact was proportionately lighter than across the Atlantic – which is why, in 1994, it was possible for Kevin Elyot to write a farce about Aids.

The word is never mentioned in My Night With Reg but the audience soon understands what caused the death of Reg, who belongs with Godot in that select group of theatrical title characters who never appear on stage. At least five – and possibly all six – of the characters on stage are shown to have slept with Reg. In one of the best punchlines in modern theatre, one of the men recalls how “even the vicar at the crematorium said what a good fuck he was”.

The play is concerned more universally with loss and love – unrequited and betrayed – and the inequality of desire. Elyot died last year. Robert Hastie’s revival is a fitting memorial: in contrast to The Normal Heart, My Night With Reg seems even stronger as a play now than it did originally. Today, marriages between these characters would be legal. Although some theatregoers may still be shocked by what happens on stage (a notice warns about smoking and male nudity), it felt to me that My Night With Reg was now playing as Elyot had always hoped it would: as an Ayckbournian comedy of social embarrassment, in which the types of relationships the characters have are as relevant as the type of sex.

Elyot never got to write a play about gay couples in a culture of legal equality but, in another instructive conjunction, Russell T Davies has done it with Cucumber, the largest part of his new trilogy (Thursdays, 9pm, Channel 4), 15 years after Queer As Folk. He presents a middle-aged man panicking at a proposal from his long-term lover. In happier circumstances than 30 years ago, history has given gay drama a new twist.

Last word. Honest

The literary critic Edward Said’s book On Late Style – analysing the work of artists in their final years – was, with some poignancy, published posthumously. So another academic will have to tackle an emerging subgenre in last work: when a writer declares in advance that this marks the end of their career.

Anne Tyler has indicated that A Spool of Blue Thread, published next month, will be her final novel, following the example of Philip Roth, who has insisted that his own shelf will not extend beyond the 2010 novella Nemesis. The declaration of a full stop removes two of the most common fears of older writers: a dropping off in quality (John le Carré has said he has instructed his family to tell him if a book is not good enough to publish) and of dying in mid-sentence. The Irish-Canadian author Brian Moore once expressed horror at the prospect of “some bastard coming along and finishing it off for you”. As it happened, he left a story incomplete, but it has remained unseen.

Roth declared Nemesis the end retrospectively; his forthcoming biography may reveal a subsequent unpublished manuscript. Tyler, however, has ensured that readers will know the significance of the final page of A Spool of Blue Thread. Yet so devoted are her fans, that she may find the drawback of declaring retirement is an international campaign to change her mind.


My Night With Reg plays at the Apollo Theatre until April 11th.

Mark Lawson is a journalist and broadcaster, best known for presenting Front Row on Radio 4 for 16 years. He writes a weekly column in the critics section of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Class Ceiling

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.