Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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The York Realist

by Peter Gill

The Strand Theatre, London

Review by Peter Hepple, The Stage, 21 March 2002

As soon as the lights go up on William Dudley's set — looking a little dwarfed in this large theatre — one is struck by how much like the Royal Court of the early sixties it is. This is hardly surprising because this play's writer and director Peter Gill is of that ground-breaking generation and was himself largely responsible for the rediscovery of DH Lawrence as a dramatist.

And yes, there is a kitchen sink on stage in Dudley's careful reconstruction of a farm cottage interior in the sixties with its coal-fired range, tall dresser — Yorkshire rather than Welsh — and a completely unassuming air as befits a Methodist family.

But there is one important difference from a sixties play.

This one is dominated but not overwhelmed by homosexuality, which could only be hinted at 40 years ago. It is still discreet and the more moving because of it.

George, the highly masculine, thirtysomething farm labourer elder son of the household, has known about his orientation since he was 18 but has never been troubled by it. But he is instantly drawn to John, the tousle-haired assistant director of an amateur production of the York Mystery Plays in which he has the leading role. This feeling is reciprocated to such an extent that John is anxious to entice George to move to London to become an actor That this does not happen provides the most dramatic element of this extraordinarily effective play, which scores because of its hidden emotions. For all his longing to become an actor and his interest in the London artistic scene to which John has briefly introduced him, George's roots are in the countryside and there is even a suggestion that he may eventually marry the bossy young woman who has had her eye on him for many years.

It is quite brilliantly acted by Lloyd Owen as George and Richard Coyle as John, the latter realising how out of place he is in this strongly entrenched rural world, with its ailing mother (Anne Reid), Felix Bell's indecisive younger son, slightly upwardly mobile sister (Caroline O'Neill), her potentially boozy husband (Ian Mercer) and the ever-obliging younger neighbour (Wendy Nottingham).

A gem of a play indeed.


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