In 2017, Adam Spreadbury-Maher directed the 35th anniversary production and the first London revival of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean at The King’s Head Theatre, the production transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 as part of the King’s Head West End season.
Coming Clean, written 12 years before Elyot’s most famous play, My Night With Reg will return to Trafalgar Studios in the new year, playing 8th January to 1st February 2020.
You’re directing the return of Coming Clean to Trafalgar Studios, what can you tell us about it?
Coming Clean was the first UK gay play to be staged by all accounts, and by gay play I mean gay characters living relatively normal, everyday lives in a domestic setting which was a huge first for the UK. This can be taken for granted now, with shows like The Inheritance being a regular occurrence but in 1982, staging Coming Clean was a very radical thing for The Bush Theatre to do.
It was 14 years before Kevin Elyot’s second play, My Night with Reg which is known as his great masterpiece. There was a real risk of Coming Clean being lost in history. I revived it and am doing so again because it encapsulates this beautiful moment after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1968 but just before the AIDS epidemic: a time where it was legal to be gay without living in fear. In that sense, it is the only play of its time and I’m very excited that it will be returning to Trafalgar Studios this January.
You directed the first revival and this is the second time you’re bringing it to the West End, what is it about Coming Clean that keeps drawing you back?
In 1982, there was no West End transfer of Coming Clean even though a fair amount of the industry came to see it. I read into that there was a commercial fear of transferring a thoroughly queer work to a large, commercial West End theatre even though to me, it sounds like it thoroughly deserved one. For it to arrive in the West End 35 years later, finally, was and continues to be really quite something. What draws me back is that, quite simply, it’s just a really good play: a great story with engaging, timeless themes such as monogamy, polyamory, cheating and betrayal. The presence of betrayal in particular, in a loving relationship cuts us right to our core. This story has no bounds of gender or sexual identity and is as relevant today as it was then – maybe even more so.
Jonah Rzeskiewicz joins the cast this time as Robert, what are you looking forward to most about having someone new in the cast?
In true King’s Head style, we are going to be showcasing a new actor in the industry, Jonah, who is making his professional and West End debut. It’s really wonderful and in the spirit of the play, as it was Kevin Elyot’s debut play. It celebrates the values and missions of the King’s Head Theatre – to act as a launchpad for emerging artists which is really in our DNA. It’s why we have remained constant for the past 50 years and so it seems incredibly fitting that we will be demonstrating exactly this in our 50th year in the West End.
Your first production of Coming Clean was at The King’s Head, what opportunities does transferring to a West End venue give you?
It’s a great chance to showcase the King’s Head Theatre to a wider audience, an audience that might not know about us or travel to Islington or London very regularly. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate the King’s Head and our 50th anniversary in 2020.
Why do you think Kevin Elyot’s writing is still so popular with audiences?
Kevin wrote of his time, he chronicled the world around him and that is what is so special about his work, there is a real sense of autobiography. This is what makes Coming Clean so precious – it’s a snapshot of history. There is no other gay play written at that time that caught the golden moment between partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic. We see it in his later work, My Night with Reg for example.
Apart from the cast changes, can we expect anything different from this production of Coming Clean?
Well, the very nature of Jonah joining the cast gives the production a different feel. He will be bringing a new take on Robert, the catalyst of the play. The arrival of Robert changes the daily rhythms of three characters: Greg, Tony and William. The way that Jonah creates this will be interesting. Tom Lambert did an excellent job before him, but they are two very different actors. It’s so special that this is Jonah’s first job and I’m really excited to see what he does.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Coming Clean?
I’d say: “You’re very clever and have impeccable taste! You should buy more tickets and come again!”
Coming Clean, directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher is at Trafalgar Studios 8th January to 1st February 2020.
Main Image: Adam Spreadbury Maher. Credit Simon Webb