Review - Coming Clean - The Turbine Theatre, London

Coming Clean - The Turbine Theatre, London

There is unlikely to ever be a time, for gay men, like the early 80’s. In a world that was still to be ravaged by the AIDS crisis, sexual freedom was the name of the game. Sleeping around was, for many, the norm and notches on the bedpost might well have been counted in the dozens – But what about those in committed relationships?

Kevin Elyot, in his 1982 debut play, Coming Clean, takes a long, hard, and, perhaps stereotypical look at the dilemma of the day. Stay committed and monogamous, or agree that a certain amount of “sexual liberty” is quite healthy in a long-term relationship?

American lecturer, Greg and wannabe writer, Tony have been together for five years. Each knows that the other “plays around”, but the agreement is that you never sleep with the same guy twice. Enter Robert, a seriously sexy aspiring actor who, during a “resting” period, is looking for a cleaning job.

Tony, encouraged by his slutty friend William, flirts mercilessly with the young man while Greg, who is trying to work from home, sees Robert as a distraction and an unnecessary extravagance. He’s happy for Tony to be the housekeeper, as his writing career has yet to sprout wings. Greg gets his way and when we rejoin the action, four months later, Robert is no longer the cleaner.

Greg enters the living room to answer the phone, annoyed at being disturbed during a hot sex session in the bedroom. The phone stops ringing just as he gets to it, so he settles himself in the living room, where he is soon joined, dressed only in figure hugging briefs, by Robert. Tony is away for the weekend, so they continue the “bedroom action” on the living room floor – just as Tony returns early.

What we see in act two is the collision of commitment and freedom, the hurt and betrayal of discovering an affair and two people desperately trying to control their feelings, while dealing with sexual infidelity that has strayed far outside of “the rules”.

Alexander Hulme, as Greg, is suitably smug, because he has the open relationship he always wanted while the mask that Yannick Budd wears as Tony soon slips when confronted with this new, heart wrenching, reality. They work well together as a couple who deal with the monotony of daily lives by scoring verbal points against one another.

Theo Walker as Robert really shines in a role that sees him turn from a young cleaner desperately trying to please both of his employers to a sexual partner who is quite happy pleasing just one of them. As he brazenly stands, semi naked, at the front window, he displays a contempt for their relationship which is both arrogant and desperate. He wants, so much, to have the commitment and stability that they have.

The final actor in the piece is Sam Goodchild who doubles up quite brilliantly as overtly camp William, the slutty friend who enjoys nothing more than sharing sordid, and very detailed tales of his sexual exploits (until one night when it all goes horribly wrong for him), and Jurgen, a German “leather man” who comes back with Tony, for a hot night of passion while Greg is away!

Although the pace of act one is a little slow, the drama in act two certainly makes up for this as emotions are laid raw, feelings lie trampled on the floor, and a harmonious solution seems so very far away. The question is, can sexual freedom and a committed relationship go hand in hand?

The answer is to be found at The Turbine Theatre until April 20th, in Andrew Beckett’s spellbinding and heart-stopping examination of a dilemma that has been faced by many couples, gay and straight, for all time. The silence throughout the production, and rapturous applause at the curtain call, is testament to a production that works very well in such an intimate space.

This show was reviewed on the 3rd April at The Turbine Theatre, London.  Tickets available here: Coming Clean | The Turbine Theatre

****   Four stars

Paul Scott

Photo credit: Mark Senior