Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
London Theatre Guide review
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Wendy Nottingham, Anne Reid, Ian Mercer, Lloyd Owen in The York Realist by Peter Gill.  Photo: Ivan KynclThe York Realist

by Peter Gill

Royal Court, London SW1

Review by Darren Dalglish, The London Theatre Guide — Online, 15 January 2002

This new play written and directed by Peter Gill is a beautifully crafted drama concerning a gay love affair.

It is a story set in 1960s York, in which local farm labourer George falls in love with young John, from London. They meet during rehearsals for the Mystery plays that George is starring in and John is the assistant director of. When the play’s run ends John asks George to move down to London, but George refuses because of his commitments at home, mainly the care of his elderly mother. This results in emotional turmoil for both men.

Lloyd Owen, Richard Coyle in The York Realist by Peter Gill. Photo: Ivan Kyncl Set in a time when homosexuality was still unlawful, this play explores the concerns and values of both men who have different social backgrounds. George, is a working class man who has a natural passion for the arts, especially theatre. Though life has presented him with few opportunities to develop his natural acting ability. He is content with his ‘simple’ life and even his sexuality was something he accepted without any twinges of guilt. John, on the other hand was someone who travelled, was driven by ambition and seemed at first uneasy about his sexuality.

I found the play to be charmingly nostalgic as I am from the north of England myself and was brought up in the sixties and seventies and this drama successfully captures the nuances along with the northern accents and idioms of the time.

 Lloyd Owen in The York Realist by Peter Gill.  Photo: Ivan Kyncl Lloyd Owen as ‘George’ and Richard Coyle as ‘John” are phenomenal. There are no sexual scenes and not even kissing takes place between the two men, but nevertheless the two actors brilliantly portray their desire with body language alone. The way they look at each other with nervous seductive eagerness is exquisite, warm and most touching. There is also a tender performance from Annie Reid as the typical protective northern mother, and Wendy Nottingham is superb as ‘Doreen’ the spinster neighbour who looks upon George as a potential husband.

There are a few moments of light comedy within the play, for example Doreen and Mother are both faithful chapelgoers and are shocked to think that the Mystery plays may possibly be Catholic. It also comes as no surprise upon their return from seeing the Mystery Plays to hear Doreen state that she thought the girl playing Pontius Pilate’s wife was very ‘common’. And a bit later in the same conversation Mother says, “I thought God had a good voice, very clear”. As if their simple chapel faith would allow them to see the wife of ‘Pontius Pilate’ in a good light, no matter how well acted the role, and God was bound to be ‘good’ no matter what!!

This new play has received good notices from of the popular press… MICHAEL BILLINGTON for the GUARDIAN says, “Qualities of emotional intelligence, raw honesty and fascination with the intersection of class and sex.” He goes on to say, “The play comes like a rare blast of reality.” KATE BASSETT for THE INDEPENDENT says, “An exquisitely crafted drama.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “The York Realist by veteran dramatist Peter Gill is sensationally fine and poignant.” He goes on to say, “Gill's play, one of the finest written on the theme in 30 years, puts homosexuality back where it belongs — in the family.” And finishes by describing it as a “rich, rare family drama.” JANE EDWARDES for TIME OUT says, “Absorbing evening.” MICHAEL COVENEY for DAILY MAIL says, " Lloyd Owen is fulsomely, sonorously, convincing....Richard Coyle is suitably tentative and plausible as John." " However, not all critics liked it, CHARLES SPENCER for the DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “Stunningly boring slab of dour social realism.” He goes on to say, “It is sad to see such a lame duck limping across the Royal Court's main stage.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, “Peter Gill's new play is a taciturn affair about not much.” ALEKS SIERZ for THE STAGE says, "A rather old-fashioned evening."

Some may find the play labours a little as silence is used sometimes to add authenticity and atmosphere to the play, but this is an intelligent and moving drama that is a pleasant change from gay issues being portrayed with the usual graphic sexual scenes!

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