Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Spectator review
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The York Realist

by Peter Gill

The Strand Theatre

Review by Toby Young, The Spectator, 6 April 2002

I have to confess, I was slightly dreading The York Realist, Peter Gill's new play that's transferred to the Strand from the Royal Court. Set in the Swinging Sixties, it's about a love affair between two homosexuals, one a rugged farm labourer, the other a metropolitan theatre producer. Oh no, I thought. Not another excuse to feature two men snogging on the West End stage. As a device for shocking middle-class theatregoers, that's about as original as nudity was in the period in which The York Realist is set.

Well, I'm happy to report that The York Realist is entirely free of cliches, including both of the above. The love scenes between the two men are handled with great delicacy — not even Ann Widdecombe could find anything to object to here. Indeed, the homosexuality of the two protagonists is fairly incidental. It's not their unorthodox sexual preferences that keep them apart, but the fact that they come from different worlds. The play could just as easily be about a love affair between a middle-class man and a working-class girl. The real subject of The York Realist is the inability of the English, particularly those at the lower end of the social scale, to transcend their origins.

The play is set in the farm cottage that George, the Lawrentian hero, shares with his widowed mother, and when John, his sophisticated lover, drops in unexpectedly the dramatic tension is palpable. Surprisingly, though, it has less to do with the fact that George's mother isn't aware of their relationship than with the awkwardness that John evidently feels about being in such an ordinary home. George and his mother go about their domestic tasks in a state of blissful innocence, happily unaware that, for John, they're freighted with significance. In the end, though, it's George, beautifully played by Lloyd Owen, who can't bring himself to cross the class barrier. He's held in check by his working-class roots and nothing, not even romantic love, can break their stranglehold. It's this paralysis, not homosexuality, that The York Realist is really about.


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