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Phil Willmott

Review: COMING CLEAN at the King's Head Theatre

Coming Clean - King's Head Theatre A final piece by the late Kevin Elliot, best known for his play My Night with Reg, drew a fairly negative reaction from critics recently so it's interesting that the King's Head Theatre are reviving his very first play only weeks afterwards. It's 35 years since a premiere at the Bush Theatre and as far as I know this is the first time anyone's revisited it.

It's a fairly slight story in which a long term gay couple hire an attractive male cleaner whilst negotiating the sexual parameters of their relationship. We meet the other lovers of each partner and a funny neighbour pops by regularly for some camp banter to liven things up.

I remember reading it during the AIDS epidemic and, besieged as we were then by plays about the health crisis it was fascinating to read a text that predated the misery, and debated promiscuity with no mention of death.

Unencumbered by procreation most long term gay couples discuss whether sex on-the-side with other people will keep things fresh. I know from personal experience that it's a delicate negotiation in which bravado can hide deep seated insecurities; the needs and desires of everyone involved constantly shift like the tide. Back in the early 1980's we, as gay men, were under represented on stage and didn't appear with any credibility in film and on TV. I can imagine it was very, very exciting back then to see these boyfriends deliberating honestly, filthily and wittily about their carnality, without judgement or censure.

But what does it have to offer an audience today? Now that you can stream hundreds of much more profound dramatisations of our lives, lusts and screw ups from Netflix and the BBC is broadcasting a raft of drama and documentary all this month to commemorate 50 years since homosexuality was legalised?

I'm afraid the answer is not much. Ten minutes of TV shows like Looking and Lena Dunham's Girls will tell you more about today's counter-culture sexual morays and neither does it have much to tell us about pre-AIDS London.

In fact change the music and about 6 lines and add a few references to modern gay hook-up apps and it could be a play about gay life today. But maybe that's the point - twenty something gay couples are having the same conversations as their elders did and we're none of us any the wiser about what makes a good relationship.

This is not to say this isn't a very enjoyable production.

Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher stages everything with a detailed and fleet footed panache and one of my favourite Kings Head actors, Elliot Hadley, savours every moment as the catty sit-com neighbour and delivers the script's many zinger lines with his usual aplomb.

Some of the other performances are a little too demonstrative for the stage's close proximity to the audience but the show delivers plenty of simulated sex and attractive naked men for those who'll book on the strength of this alone (Hey, I'm not judging I once directed a nude gay review called Naked Boys Singing at this same venue!) Although if your hoping to see the sexy young guy on the poster, I'm afraid he's not in it.

There are strong production values from designer Amanda Mascarenhas whose beautifully realised living room set is splendidly grubby and ready for the attentions of a cleaner, even if the owners aren't.

Coming Clean is sexy, funny and looks great. Just don't expect a lost masterpiece.