Peter Gill OBE, founder-director of the Riverside Studios celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this month. As a birthday present, the Studios are reviving his 2001 Oliver-nominated play, The York Realist. And a treat it is for us too.
Set in a tiny, womb-like, Yorkshire farm cottage in the early 1960's, at a time when British society was in great turmoil, the play presents us with a warm and tender gallery of lovable characters, in a way, a microcosm of the whole country.
George (Stephen Hagan) is very much at home with who he is and what he does, until, that is, his allegiances to his class and his roots are challenged by his love affair with a thespian from London and the prospect of a career on the stage. As possible excuses disappear, George finds himself torn, having to choose between two major, yet contradictory, facets of who he is.
By the end of the play, his choice is made but he can't help quoting from the York Mystery Play in which he has shined, an experience that opened a new world to him:
Foxes their dens have they
Birds have their nests so gay
But the son of man
Has not where his head may rest.
That the love affair is a gay one is irrelevant (nowadays, the temptation would probably come from an illegal immigrant or someone with a different faith). It certainly is for George and his family, though perhaps not for the ostensibly worldlier John who is worried of police interference (consensual sex in private between men over 21 wasn't decriminalised until 1967).
The acting (particularly Hagan and Fayerman), the direction (by Adam Spreadbury-Maher), the set (by Kate Guinness); all are superb and conspire to create a funny and endearing show, even if we are perhaps left asking for slightly more depth in the exploration of the themes broached.
Picture by Felix Kunze, showing Stephanie Fayerman (Mother) and Stephen Hagan (George).
The York Realist runs until 11 October at the Riverside Studios. Tickets: £14 (£12 concessions). Post-Show Talks: 30th September: Peter Gill and director Adam Spreadbury-Maher and 2nd October: Michael Billington and Josie Rourke on 'Class and Theatre'.