A Poignant Portrayal Of Bittersweet Romance

The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 8 months ago

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A Poignant Portrayal Of Bittersweet Romance The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse 4
Photo: Johan Persson

Peter Gill’s 2001 play is about a tender love affair between two young men in early 1960s Yorkshire. They meet during rehearsals for the York Mystery Plays (a community drama cycle telling key biblical stories first performed by medieval craft guilds), where middle-class, London-based John is assistant director and talented amateur actor George is a local farm labourer who lives with his ailing mother.

Photo: Johan Persson

Although homosexuality was still illegal in the UK then, the focus is not on the problems of dealing with homophobia, but on reconciling their contrasting lifestyles. The main reasons why they can’t stay together are differences of class and place — they belong to different worlds despite their mutual attraction. A hybrid of D.H. Lawrence and Chekhov, The York Realist mixes naturalistic kitchen-sink drama with reflective tragicomedy in a quietly heart-breaking affair that never indulges in histrionics.

Photo: Johan Persson

Most of the story is told in extended flashback with brief overlaps of time. Robert Hastie’s finely-nuanced production strongly evokes the natural rhythms of close-knit family life in a northern rural community, with all the action taking place within Peter McKintosh’s lovingly re-created stone-and-timber farm cottage parlour.

Photo: Johan Persson

The romantic relationship is movingly portrayed by Jonathan Bailey’s sensitive, cultured John and the outstanding Ben Batt as George, who suggests the deep currents of emotion running below his phlegmatic manner – a man rooted in the Yorkshire soil as much as the vernacular Mystery Plays.

The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX. Until 24 March 2018. Tickets £10-40.

Last Updated 15 February 2018