Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Guardian review
Home | Up | News | Productions | Pieces | Résumé | Pictures | Studio | Publications | Links


Bookmark and Share

The York Realist

by Peter Gill

Royal Court Theatre, London

Review by Michael Billington, The Guardian, January 9, 2002

Preview by Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, January 7, 2002

Peter Gill is back in fashion. His first play The Sleepers Den was recently revived at the Southwark Playhouse, his production of John Osbornes Luther has had rave reviews at the National Theatre, and next year the Sheffield Crucible is mounting a retrospective of his work. Now English Touring Theatre premieres a love story between two young men of very different backgrounds and a meditation on an alternative tradition in English art. The York Realist is the work of an artist who has been a key figure in British theatre for over 30 years and still has plenty to say.

Peter Gill first achieved fame for his theatrical restoration of DH Lawrence. And his new play, presented by English Touring Theatre, is like a glowing tribute to the Eastwood exemplar. It has the Lawrentian qualities of emotional intelligence, raw honesty and fascination with the intersection of class and sex.

In outline it sounds like a gay love story. George is a farm labourer who gets involved in an early 1960s production of the York Mystery Plays: John is the shy assistant director who comes to woo him back to rehearsals when he withdraws, ostensibly to look after his widowed mother. The two men's physical and emotional rapport is palpable. But Gill shows, with rigorous honesty, the obstacles that lie in the path of a long term relationship.

Significantly, sexual bigotry is not one of them: even if the play has echoes of Lawrence's The Daughter-in-Law it never turns into a battle for possession of George between his mother and lover. What Gill is writing about is the dual stranglehold of class and roots.

For John, a metropolitan careerist, the Yorkshire countryside has an exotic otherness of which he can never fully be a part. Equally George, although he visits London and relishes its early sixties intellectual fever, is wedded irrevocably to the land. In the end it is he, as much as the anonymous author of the medieval mysteries, who turns out to be the true York realist.

What is startling about the play, given Gill's Welsh origins, is its profound Englishness: it is about the way the English, however hard they try, can never finally escape their origins. But, far from being emotionally conservative, the play is adventurous, witty and fresh.

At a time when sexual acrobatics are all the rage, it captures the hesitant growth of love between two men with rare tenderness. It is also funny not least in the almost embarrassed enthusiasm George's family display after their visit to the Mysteries. "It was very Yorkshire, wasn't it," cries George's mother carefully adding: "Not that I mind."

Gill's production has the same spare honesty, very much in a 1960s Royal Court tradition, as his writing and is superlatively played. Lloyd Owen, a fast-rising star, endows George with exactly the right blend of Yorkshire grit and unashamed delight in his sexuality: it is Richard Coyle, as the supposedly sophisticated Londoner, who is the more tentative. And there is exemplary support from Anne Reid as George's mother whose love takes the form of unspoken understanding, from Wendy Nottingham as a quiet chapel mouse who adores George, and from Felix Bell as his amusedly observant nephew. The play comes like a rare blast of reality.

Home | Up | Spectator review | Stage interview | IHT review | Stage review | FT interview | Guardian review | NY Times review | TLS review | Herald review | Time Out review | London Theatre Guide review | Online review | Mail on Sunday review | Sunday Times review | Observer review | Sunday Telegraph review | BBC Arts review | FT review | Rainbownetwork review | Times review | Telegraph review | Guardian review | Standard review | Daily Mail review | Morning Star review | whatsonstage review | BBC Bristol review | Nowt2Do review | BBC Manchester review | Manchester Evening News | Anne Reid | Ian Mercer

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.  Copyright © 1999-2012

Last modified: 2012-03-15