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'The York Realist' at London's Donmar Warehouse: 'A romantic gay drama that'll make you laugh and cry' (Review)

Peter Gill’s award-winning play has been revived for 2018.

2018-02-20

This is one of those magical moments in the theatre where we are transported into a different world – in this case a rural farmhouse in the1960’s – and the real world simply ceases to exist.

We meet an array of characters, all wonderfully portrayed, who we grow to care about and we are left with storytelling that is both beautiful and heart breaking.

George (Ben Batt) lives with his mother (Lesley Nicol). It’s a very northern and rural existence complete with outside toilet and endless cups of tea. George has been taking part in a local amateur production of the York Mystery Plays.

However, when he stops attending rehearsals assistant director John (Jonathan Bailey) turns up on his doorstep to try and coax him back - cue the most exquisitely agonising love affair.

Any sexual contact between the two handsome actors happens all offstage which results in an erotic energy where every single gesture, every bit of eye contact is loaded with meaning. It’s detailed, subtle and absolutely engrossing.

Interestingly, the doomed affair isn’t the result of social disapproval as expected. The characters seem refreshingly at ease with their sexuality and other characters seem either unaware or happy to look the other way.

It fails due to class, an impossible divide that can’t be breached. George is connected to the rural north not just by family bonds but by something almost spiritual.

On the other hand, John represents the metropolitan south and despite love, longing and desire the lovers can find no compromise between country and city.

Batt is all masculine power and quiet strength but in the company of John he displays a childish vulnerability that melts your heart. His anguish over what he has lost and the personal obstacles he can’t overcome is devastating.

Bailey is all puppy dog excitement at playing tourist in the country. The boys almost get drunk on each other, perfectly in tune and with absolute integrity. They are truly brilliant and classy performances.

There is wonderful support from Lesley Nicol as George’s mother, Lucy Black as the sister and Katie West as romantic interest Doreen.

Brian Fletcher and Matthew Wilson finish off a impressive cast in a production that will make you laugh, cry and which surely has to have a West End transfer. Not to be missed.

Rating: 5/5

The York Realist plays at the Donmar Warehouse until 24th March. For more information visit donmarwarehouse.com.

Words: Matthew Hyde