A review of Robert Hastie’s exquisite production of Peter Gill’s 2001 drama; The York Realist, by Laurence Green
Passion, class and divided loyalties come to the fore in a delicate tale of a secret gay relationship in 60s Britain in Robert Hastie’s beautifully nuanced production of Peter Gill’s 2001 drama The York Realist (Donmar Warehouse).
The realist of the title would appear to be George, a farm labourer living an uncomplicated life in a tied cottage in Yorkshire with his ailing mother. He isn’t overly inclined to make too much ado of the romance which gently develops between him and John, who has come from London to become an assistant director on a local production of the medieval York mysteries plays, and in which George has signed on for a part as a centurion if only he would turn up for rehearsals. It is during a courtesy call in which John comes to inquire about George’s well- being that the two men bridge a social and cultural divide and embark upon a relationship, carried on with gathering awareness, particularly by the women in their midst – George’s sister speaks of her brother not being “the marrying kind.” The eyes have it as far as this pair is concerned: George’s are soulful but clear- sighted while eager John’s are bright with longing. For George though, this opens up a new world to him.
This play conjures up a world outside toilets and endless cups of tea, one where a trip to the pub, a washing machine and a foreign holiday are all viewed with suspicion – “Spain? What’s wrong with Bridlington?” someone remarks at one point. It is a country of chapel and hard labour, of limited expectations and quiet satisfaction.
Hastie’s production vividly evokes a tight knit family and local community, with revealing silences interspersing the earthy dialogue and full weight given in every subtle inflection of behaviour. He is very much helped by Peter Mckintosh’s perfectly detailed cosy cottage interior which has the glory of the Yorkshire moors overhead. The two central performances carefully delineate the men’s relationship. Ben Batt exudes a sturdy, unselfconscious command over George and has an extraordinary ability to channel emotion without changing his expression. Jonathan Bailey meanwhile, cuts a glimmering and warm presence as John, tentatively touching George’s back with delighted affection when he thinks no one is looking. Lesley Nicol best known as Mrs Patmore, the cook in Downton Abbey, is in fine form as the doting no nonsense mother, finding just the right note of reticent selflessness. Good support is provided by Lucy Black as George’s bustling sister, Matthew Wilson as her bluff husband and Katie West as a anxious to please neighbour who snatches what little happiness she can wherever she find it, and whose kind heart is full of quiet love for George.
A production then of exquisite naturalism and tenderness that makes a strong impression.
Runs until March 24th
Box office: 020 3282 3808