23 APRIL 1994, Page 43


Ghost From a Perfect Place (Hampstead) My Night With Reg (Royal Court Upstairs) Rope (Wyndham's)

Krazy for you

Sheridan Morley

AHampstead, Philip Ridley's Ghost From A Perfect Place looks at first like a crazy lament for the Krays; John Wood, in a massively evil performance as Travis Flood, returns from Californian exile to revisit the scene of his Sixties crimes in Bethnal Green and is predictably horrified at the changes wrought by 30 years. Graffiti everywhere, punk-rocking kids showing no respect, the East End gone to hell in a handbasket. So different from the dear, dead days when Flood only murdered those who truly deserved it.

But Ridley has something more ambi- tious in mind than a ritual survey of gang- ster nostalgia: a carefully laid plot eventu- ally explodes when Flood is brought up against the leader of a brutal gang of female Cheer leaders dressed in gold lame. It would be unfair to reveal their precise connection, but a sharp and sinister tale unfolds in which Ridley would seem to be asking us to consider the changing social and sexual nature of street violence. Not only can yesterday's gangsters end up as today's hostages, but along the way all val- ues have been changed, rather as though Al Capone were to try and make sense of life in down-town Chicago today.

In the end, it transpires that there are no perfect places, and that the ghosts are only pretending: neither Flood, nor the old crone who first takes him in (Bridget Turn- er), nor her granddaughter Rio Sparks (threateningly well played by Trevyn McDowell as the chief Cheer-leader) are quite what or who they seem, and all we know for sure is that Joe Orton has here encountered Mickey Spillane up a dark English alley. Matthew Lloyd's production is a masterpiece of killer-bimbo menace.

Indirectly derived from La Ronde by way of Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit, Kevin Elyot's My Night With Reg (at the Royal Court Upstairs) is an expert gay-chic comedy of tragic manners. Twenty years on from the necessarily more out-front homo- sexuality of Boys in the Band or Torch Song Trilogy, this is an elegant study of men in love with men, precisely the kind of non- closeted, honest entertainment that Cow- ard or Rattigan would have yearned and loved to write had the public and theatrical mood of their times been more tolerant.

But there is now of course a spectre at the feast: where the unspoken connection of La Ronde was venereal disease, so now it is Aids from which two of the characters die, offstage, during a brief no-interval 90 minutes. Yet this is not a dance of latterday death, nor any kind of appeal for under- standing or tolerance; indeed the best thing about My Night With Reg is that it goes in for no special pleading of any kind: it sim- ply tells the stories of six men, the parties which bring them together, and the affairs which lead to tragedy.

There's John (Anthony Calf), a wealthy Brideshead hero, Guy (David Bamber), an adman aching for love of him, Daniel (John Sessions), the camp, promiscuous star of the group. Eric (Joe Duttine), the house painter whose lower-class morality acts as a corrective to them all, and then Bernie and Benny, the bus-driver and plas- tic-cup salesman, who are there chiefly as observers and guests. Out of this sextet, Elyot carves a short, sharp drama of male emotion which suggests that gays would be no different from the rest of us were it not for a terrible fate which has put them sud- denly at high sexual risk. As for Reg, we never get to meet him at all, though by the end of an expertly performed evening we feel we have known the others all our lives.

Keith Baxter's brilliant rediscovery and rethinking of Patrick Hamilton's Rope, about which I raved in these columns when it first opened last summer at the Minerva in Chichester, is now at Wyndham's with a somewhat revised cast, but Anthony Head still giving a breathtaking performance as the war-wounded poet who comes quite lit- erally face to face with death. If all you know of Rope is the Hitchcock movie, you don't know Rope at all.