A poignant homage to the past
by Peter Gill
Royal Court Theatre
Review by Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail, Wednesday January 9, 2002
PETER GILL is one of the great figures in the history of the Royal Court.
Initially employed as an actor, his first play was produced there in 1965 and a few years later he rediscovered, as a director, the plays of D H Lawrence, which had never been taken seriously.
His new play in Sloane Square, which is sensitive, poignant and scrupulously well-acted, is a homage to his own past and the old Royal Court before it changed again, decisively, around 20 years ago.
The setting is a tied cottage on a farm outside York in the early 1960s. There is a tin bath and an outside loo.
George, the main character, is a farm labourer who is about to perform in the Mystery Plays in the Abbey Gardens.
He has befriended the assistant director, John, from London, and enters a relationship with him.
The play begins and ends with George making a choice between the life he knows, once his mother is dead, and the possibility of joining a theatre like the Royal Court itself, where northern accents are suddenly all the rage.
So George, as a character, is projected into a future by Gill that he may or may not possess.
And the cottage, with its small chat round the big brown teapot -the equivalent of a samovar in
Chekhov's plays — becomes a symbolic throwback to both Lawrence and another Court favourite, David Storey and his Yorkshire realism.
Just like a Lawrentian miner, George strips to the waist for his cold bath, sanctifies his hypochondriac, fussing mother — a lovely, wistful performance by Ann Reid — and wrestles with emotions and family loyalties.
In a gorgeous opening second act scene, they all troop back from seeing the Mysteries, pondering the surprise of Noah having a wife and George nailing Jesus to the cross with unnecessary gusto.
Lloyd Owen is fulsomely, sonorously, convincing as George while Richard Coyle is suitably tentative and plausible as John.
The play is rhythmically structured, so that ordinary domestic business carries a full charge, even in the silence, and an apparent slightness of writing takes on, by the end, an insinuating, irresistible momentum.
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