It's a mystery how some

plays manage to find their

way into the West End. Take Helping Harry.

An amiable, if increasingly maudlin first play from Valentine Guinness, lead singer apparently of rock band

Darling, it's the kind of ''gay'' confessional that might have raised a few eyebrows 20

years ago.

But, even given the modesty of Jermyn Street's situation (it holds barely 75 people), it's strange how such fare managed to find its way into the central spotlight. Perhaps it has powerful sponsors.

Directed by actor Nickolas Grace, himself no mean performer, the one thing Helping Harry has going for it, however, is its quality acting with a cast that includes Merchant-Ivory specialist James Wilby and Peak Practice's Adrian Lukis.

A kind of Men Behaving Badly that segues into My Night With Reg, personal skeletons come rattling out of cupboards faster than you can say Silent Witness as old college chums meet to help out the unseen Harry only to discover, over one night, the shallow reality behind their ''friendship''.

Guinness's material, deftly enough handled, may not be the most original in the world, but Wilby and co grab the oppor-tunity to give an unfussy but stellar display of collective

acting skill.

Wilby, particularly, is a revelation as Phil, the ruthless,

bi-sexual city dealer with a colourful, if secret, taste in Hackney transvestites. But Lukis, too, as a failed artist up from Devon, offers a study

lesson in shambling lyricism. Simon Dutton and Jay Villiers do their bit conveying varying degrees of male bad faith and emotional myopia, while David Michaels brings uncamp honesty to Michael, by day a lawyer, by night a gay club ''hostess''.

All the same, Doug Lucie's punchier Progress covered similar ground 26 years ago. Where has everyone been?