Writer: Peter Gill
Director: Robert Hastie
Reviewer: Sheila Stratford
This warm yet poignant play is full of ambiguities. Peter Gill’s The York Realist explores the love story between a young theatre director up from London to assist in the staging of the York Mystery Plays, and a Yorkshire agriculture worker.
This one-set play takes the audience back to a rural Yorkshire farmhouse in the 1960s. The north-south divide was as prevalent then as in today’s political climate. It was a time when relationships between men were more covert. It is, therefore, heart-warming to see how the beguiled young director is accepted by this very close, working class, straight-talking Yorkshire family.
The play was first performed in 2001 and Robert Hastie’s sensitive revival has a particular resonance with a Yorkshire audience enabling them to laugh aloud at the Yorkshire traits. The humour carries the play and helps lift the emotional turmoil. The York Realist is presented as a collaboration between the Sheffield Theatres and London’s West End Donmar Warehouse. A fitting collaboration in that it is as much about differences in location and background as between working class and middle class.
Ben Batt and Jonathon Bailey give beautiful performances as George the farm worker and John the theatre director. There is a real chemistry between the two. They skilfully communicate as much in what is said as is left unsaid.
George’s mother Lesley Nicol (of Downton Abbey fame) is a believable, no-nonsense Yorkshire woman. She is endearing and pivotal to the play. Gill’s two nonlinear scenes can be slightly confusing but very quickly the play flows forward. The family dynamics are engrossing. George’s sister Barbara (Lucy Black) encourages her brother to move on after the death of their mother. She knows her brother is not the marrying type and warns Doreen (Katie West) the young, kind-hearted, family friend who is keen to take the place of George’s mother.
George is rooted to his background and all that is familiar. He is appreciative of Doreen’s attentiveness and care. The women in the play are all very credible and loving in their roles. Brian Fletcher as George’s teenage nephew has been very well cast. It is his professional theatre debut and is perfect in the role as the youth lacking direction.
What will happen to George and John’s relationship? Will their love thrive? Or are there too many obstacles in the way? The title of the play The York Realist tells us a lot in itself. This play is very thought-provoking and tender. Not to be missed.
Runs until 7 April 2018 | Image: Johan Persson