by Peter Gill
Royal Court, London SW1
Review by AC Grayling, Online review - London, 13 January 2002
Peter Gill is not afraid of real time. George puts on his trousers, shirt, socks and shoes while his mother fusses in the kitchen, and the silence stretches out across the ordinariness of their actions, revealing their shapes as dust-sheets reveal the geometry of furniture. This happens so early in the play that little structure yet supports this test of the audience's capacity to bear reality, even if they were Yorkshiremen. But it works; the beautifully accurate and evocative set the interior of a farm labourer's cottage unchanged for a century in its appurtenances, and surviving into the 1960s without a telephone keeps everything buoyed, and the immediate richness and power of Lloyd Owen's presence on the stage feeds expectation likewise.
It is an expectation grandly rewarded. Gill writes with insight, tenderness, humour, depth, and complete sincerity. The cast is absolutely right, even down to the painfully plausible hobbledehoy Jack, gangling over his 'Eagle' at the dresser and uttering uncomfortable ingenuous truths. This is a love story, or rather: a story of loves the love between George and his mother, George's love for the farmland near York where he has always lived and which he feels he can never leave, Doreen's unrequitable love for George, the ordinary, stained, strained, unsatisfactory but durable quotidian love among husband and wife Arthur and Barbara and their son Jack, and at the centre of this texture of loves the passionate gay love between George and John.
John is a middle-class Londoner who is the assistant director in a production of the York Mystery Plays in which George shines. For all that John is relatively the more sophisticated of the two, it is George who takes the lead in their affair, marching steadily through the defences of John's initial timidities with a fine natural disregard for anxieties such love was then still criminal and with a fine healthy will to be realised. But John has a career in London, and wants George to go with him. George visits London his glowing account of its attractions is one of the funniest things in the play but the hold of the Yorkshire country on him is so powerful that it subordinates even the love of men in the end.
Lloyd Owen gives a dominating account of George, but each other member of the cast is so good in their respective roles, and inhabit them with such truth and excellence, that it seems invidious to single out Owen. But he is scarcely ever off the stage a couple of very brief transactions take place between other members of the cast in his absence, but it almost feels wrong that we should be privy to things said about him behind his back so the play turns on him, is powered by him, and radiates from him: and his performance is superb.
Both in the spareness of his writing Gill lets silence, suggestion, nuance, innuendo do a great deal of work in his script and in his instinct for placing, pacing and structuring, Gill is masterly. This is a play which deserves to become a minor classic, with a permanent home in the repertoire.
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