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Review | Kevin Elyot’s gay classic ‘Coming Clean’ returns to the West End

The acclaimed 1982 play about the breakdown of a gay relationship still scrubs up well.

By Will Stroude

Words: Thomas Stichbury

For tickets click here.

Almost three decades on from its stage debut, Kevin Elyot’s acclaimed play about a crumbling gay romance returns to the West End – and it scrubs up very nicely indeed.

Some things should be left in the past, relics of a bygone era, like Angel’s Delight, but Elyot’s scouring of issues around fidelity remains as timely today as it first did in 1982.

Set entirely in a poky little flat in Kentish Town, Coming Clean focuses on frustrated writer Tony (Lee Knight, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and his American partner Greg (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge, Black Earth Rising), a published author. The couple have a “flexible” arrangement, a hook-up here and there, and are about to celebrate their fifth anniversary together.

Lee Knight (left) as Tony & Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as Greg. (Image: Ali Wright)

However, it isn’t quite domestic bliss. Tony is tired of being treated like the dutiful housewife, so decides to hire a cleaner, that a reluctant Greg will pay for. Enter aspiring actor (and absolute hottie) Robbie, played by newcomer Jonah Rzeskiewicz. Unnecessary spoiler alert: Robert ends up giving more than just the furniture a good ol’ polish.

Elyot, who also penned 1994’s Laurence Olivier award-winning My Night With Reg (due to make a return of its own in a UK tour later this month) explores the complexities and nuances of being in an open relationship, particularly if both parties aren’t on the same page.

Sharing isn’t necessarily caring when one person’s definition of “open” is leaving the door slightly ajar for a transitory quickie, while the other’s is swung back onto its hinges to the possibility of being able to have a full-hearted affair with another. 

Lee Knight (left) as Tony and Elliot Hadley as William (Image: Ali Wright)

Light relief is provided by the production’s MVP Elliot Hadley (The Madding Crowd) as Tony’s best friend William, a potty-mouthed, chain-smoking, cruising aficionado who steals every scene he is in, whether he is pretending to be a human lampshade, performing fellatio on an eclair, or comparing a conquest’s rear to a bowl of custard. Anyone else fancy some Ambrosia?

William isn’t just rolled out to deliver the belly laughs though. There are shades to the slapstick and, when a cruise goes horribly wrong, he sells the moment and then some.

Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the King’s Head Theatre’s revival isn’t entirely spotless: some of the dialogue could have done with a dusting, showing its age with a naff joke about a dwarf, and a seemingly never-ending discussion about the merits of classical musicians, which struck a bum note.

Jonah Rzeskiewicz as Robert (Image: Ali Wright)

Funny, touching and well-acted, Coming Clean – which also features a flash of full-frontal nudity, oo-er – was well worth rinsing off and should resonate with a new audience with its ruminations on the different “rules” of relationships,

Not that Elyot is making the case for monogamy. In the words of William, the only other species on the planet that even entertains the idea of mating for life are jackals – “and they eat their own vomit”.​

Rating: 4/5

Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean runs at London’s Trafalgar Studios 2 until 1 February. For the best deals on tickets with Attitude click here.