Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
York Realist
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The York Realist by Peter Gill, Royal Court Theatre, January 2002  (Robbie Jack, Evening Standard)The York Realist

by Peter Gill

The English Touring Theatre

Tour dates
15-17 November 2001 The  Lowry, Salford Quays
20-24 November 2001 Bristol Old Vic
6 January-9 February 2002 Royal Court Theatre
8 March 2002-20 April 2002 transfer to Strand Theatre

Peter Gill’s astonishing new play is both a love story between two young men of very different backgrounds, and a meditation on an alternative tradition in English art.

The middle class Londoner John has come to York to work as Assistant Director on an amateur staging of the Mystery plays and meets the working class George, who is acting in it. John wants George to leave York and move down to London with him, where he is working in the theatre. In George’s decision, Peter Gill makes us think more deeply about the depth of English class allegiances, the meaning of family, the complex relationship between London and the ‘regions’, and the origins and ownership of art itself.

Peter Gill is one of the key figures in modern British theatre. He has directed many productions at the Royal National Theatre, the RSC, the Almeida and the Royal Court, of both classics and new work. His own plays include Kick For Touch, Mean Tears and Cardiff East.

The York Realist receives its world première at The Lowry prior to a week at the Bristol Old Vic and a run at the Royal Court, London.


"If it hadn’t been for the York Realist, Shakespeare would have been a second rate writer like Goethe".

I remember Peter Gill coming up with this witticism fifteen years ago. He had invited me to work on Goethe’s TORQUATO TASSO when he was running the National Theatre Studio, and I could tell that the remark was intended as part of my ongoing education; like all the best lessons it took me a while to work out what he meant by it. But as soon as I heard that he had written a play called THE YORK REALIST, I knew that I wanted to read it, and that English Touring Theatre would have do it.

Peter Gill is part of that astonishing group of actors, directors and writers who converged on the Royal Court in London in the 1950s and 1960s and made it one of the great theatres in the world. This was the theatre that produced John Osborne’s LOOK BACK IN ANGER, Arnold Wesker’s CHICKEN SOUP WITH BARLEY AND ROOTS, Edward Bond’s SAVED, the plays of David Storey and Peter Gill’s productions of the world premieres of DH Lawrence’s trilogy of plays: THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, THE WIDOWING OF MRS. HOLROYD and THE COLLIER'S FRIDAY NIGHT.

One of the striking features of the Royal Court in the 1960s is that many of the people involved came from working class backgrounds. Their regional accents were not simply accepted, they were celebrated. The Royal Court’s commitment to realism meant that no kind of experience was to be excluded. Which is not to say that it was naïve — the Royal Court was an ‘art theatre’, which changed the entire aesthetic of the British theatre. This was above all a theatre which astonished its audiences by the passionate rawness of its work on stage.

Of course, the Royal Court never claimed that this was new, it just felt new after the theatre of 1940s and 1950s. In fact, it connected to a very old alternative tradition in English drama, which culminated in those extraordinary scenes in Shakespeare in which working men and women, in their own dialect, speak their hearts and souls. Its deepest roots lie in the English medieval drama, especially the great Mystery Cycles of Coventry, Wakefield and York.

It is not known who wrote the Mystery plays, which were staged by the Medieval ‘guilds’, but you can detect in the York cycle the work of a writer of extraordinary talent, who is characterised by a tough, realistic approach: the soldiers crucifying Christ speak in a flinty vernacular, the shepherd’s watching their flocks are shepherds on a Yorkshire moor. The work of ‘the York realist’ transforms these Catholic, spiritual dramas into secular celebrations of community.

Peter’s play THE YORK REALIST is set in York in the early 1960s. At its heart is a love story between the middle class Londoner John, who’s come to York to work as Assistant Director on a staging of the York Mystery plays, and the working class George, who’s acting in it. John wants George to leave York and his family behind and move to London with him, where he is working in the theatre, quite possibly the Royal Court. In George’s decision not to go, Peter Gill makes us think more deeply about the depth of English class allegiances, the complex relationship between London and the ‘regions’, and the origins and ownership of art itself.

Stephen Unwin, Artistic Director


The play is set in a farm labourer's cottage outside York in the early 1960s.

See also


George Lloyd Owen (right) Lloyd Owen, The York Realist, 2001

Theatre: Edward II at the Crucible, Sheffield; Julius Caesar at the Young Vic; The Way of the World at the Royal Exchange, Manchester; Morphic Resonance and Our Boys at the Donmar Warehouse; Closer at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida and the Aldwych; East Lynne at Greenwich; Grab the Dog at the RNT Studio; Henry VI part III for the RSC; Lyubimov's Hamlet at the Haymarket and the Old Vic; Twelfth Night, Macbeth, The Tempest and Philoctetes for Cheek by Jowl

Television: Hearts and Bones, Gypsy Girl, Get Real, The Cinder Path, All in the Game, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Story of Frankenstein, Stay Lucky, The Chief, Forever Green, Boon

Film: Between Dreams, From the Balcony

Radio: Tis Pity She's a Whore

John Richard Coyle (above left)  

Theatre: Marat/Sade at the Theatre Royal, Bristol; A View from the Bridge at the Leicester Haymarket; The Sitcom Festival at the Riverside Studios

Television: Macbeth, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, The Life and Crimes of William Palmer, Greenstones, Wives and Daughters, Up, Rising, Dalziel and Pascoe, Hearts and Bones, Coupling, Sword of Honour, Lorna Doone, Othello

Radio: A Lovely Evening, A Look Across The Eyes

Film: Jane Eyre, What Rats Won't Do, Human Traffic, Topsy-Turvy, Young Blades, Happy Now?

George and Barbara's Mother Anne Reid Anne Reid, The York Realist, 2001

Theatre: A Family Affair at the Theatre Royal, Bath and tour; Blithe Spirit at the Palace, Watford; Wild Oats at the RNT; Enjoy at the Nottingham Playhouse; A Passionate Woman at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; Noises Off at Birmingham Rep; A Taste of Honey and Billy Liar at the Bolton Octagon; Pride and Prejudice at the Theatre Royal York and tour

Television includes: Linda Green, Sweet Charity, Hearts and Bones, Dinnerladies, Victoria Wood - And All the Trimmings, Dalziel and Pascoe, Peak Practice, Lost for Words, Spark, Playing the Field, Heartbeat, Pat and Margaret, Paul Merton in ..., Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Roughnecks, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Victoria Wood As Seen on TV and Comedy Playhouse, The Wingless Bird, Sometimes Never, Rich Tea and Sympathy, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Firm Friends, Inappropriate Behaviour, Or Who, The Bill, Bleak House, Coronation Street

Film: Liam, Love and Death on Long Is/and, The Infiltrator, A Close Shave

Barbara Caroline O'Neill Caroline O'Neill, The York Realist, 2001

Theatre: Vertigo at the Theatre Royal; One More Wasted Year and Stranger's House at the Royal Court; The Ladies of the Corridor at the Finborough Arms; Moses, Napoleon and the Queen and Increased Difficulty of Concentration at the Old Red Lion; Watch Out for Mr Stork at Regent's Park; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Mermaid; And His Name was Jim at the Grove

Television: Waking the Dead, Peak Practice, Coronation Street, Blood Strangers, Doctors, Ho/by City, Hollyoaks, Where the Heart Is, Queer as Folk, Wing and a Prayer, Birds of a Feather, Cops, Maisie Raine, The Bill, Out of Line, Shine on Harvey Moon, Landmarks, The Bill, Here Comes the Mirror Man, The Detectives, Body and Soul, Heartbeat, Dead Romantics, The Secret, Coasting, Orange Hill, Assert Yourself

Arthur Ian Mercer Ian Mercer, The York Realist, 2001

Theatre: Romeo and Juliet at the Young Vic; The Revenger's Tragedy, The Rivals and Chips With Everything at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; Saturday Night, Sunday Morning at Nottingham Playhouse; Spend, Spend, Spend at the Oldham Coliseum; The Fancy Man at Hampstead Theatre Club; Welcome Home for Paines Plough; Rat in the Skull at the Crucible, Sheffield; Billy Liar and Stop the Children's Laughter at the Bolton Octagon

Television: Shackleton, Coronation Street, A Touch of Frost, Cracker, Common as Muck, Brick is Beautiful, Night Voice, The Monocled Mutineer, Flowers in the Rain, Oi for England, Stoning Out, Floodtide, Blue Honey

Film: Rough Auntie, Shooting Stars, Alex and the First Day

Doreen Wendy Nottingham Wendy Nottingham, The York Realist, 2001

For English Touring Theatre: Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club at the Criterion Theatre: The Madness of Esme and Shaz and Ambulance at the Royal Court; It's a Great Big Shame at Stratford East; The Way of the World at the Lyric, Hammersmith; The Shaughraun and The Voysey Inheritance at the RNT; Jane Eyre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; The Crucible at the Young Vic Studio

Television: Casualty, Kiss Me Kate, Extremely Dangerous, People Like Us, The Peter Principle, McCallum, A Wing and a Prayer, The Bill, The Pale Horse, The Sculptress, Bliss, The Vet, Bramwell, The Wimbledon Poisoner, Kinsey, Shrinks, A Very Peculiar Practice, What's Got Into You, Tumbledown, Precious Bane, Short and Curlies

Film: Topsy-Turvy, Secrets and Lies, Mary Reilly

Jack Felix Bell Felix Bell, The York Realist, 2001

Theatre: The Secret Garden

Television: Holby City, Cold Feet, The People's Harry Enfield, Cry Wolf, All Along the Watchtower, Unfinished Business, Dangerfield, Mothertime, It Happened Next Year, LRTV, Prime Suspect, Rory Bremner Who Else?, The Fast Show, Mother's Day

Film: Potemkin, The Secret Garden

Radio: The Bunker, Wuthering Heights

Peter Gill Director Theatre includes: For the RNT: Luther, A Month in the Country, Don Juan, Much Ado About Nothing, Danton's Death, Major Barbara, Tales from Hollywood, Small Change, Kid For Touch, Antigone, Venice Preserv'd, Fool for Love, The Murderers, As I Lay Dying, A Twist of Lemon, In the Blue, Bouncing, Up for None, The Garden of England, Show Songs, Mean Tears, Mrs Klein, Juno and the Paycock, Cardiff East and Scrape Off The Black; For the Royal Court: A Collier's Friday Night, The Local Stigmatic, The Ruffian on the Stair, A Provincial Life, A Soldier's Fortune, The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Life Price, The Sleeper's Den, Over Garden's Out, The Duchess of Malfi, Crete and Sergeant Pepper, The Merry-Go-Round, The Fool and Small Change; For the Riverside Studios: The Cherry Orchard, The Changeling, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar; For the RSC: Twelfth Night, New England and A Patriot for Me; Mike Queen Elizabeth Hall: Bow Down and Down by the Greenwood Side; For Opera North: The Marriage of Figaro; For the Lyric, Hammersmith: The Way of the World; For Field Day: Uncle Vanya; For the Almeida: Tongue of a Bird and Certain Young Men; For the New Ambassadors: Speed-the-Plow

Plays include: The Sleeper's Den, Over Gardens Out, Small Change, Kick For Touch, In The Blue, Mean Tears, Cardiff East, Certain Young Men, Friendly Fire, The Look Across The Eyes, Lovely Evening

Adaptations and Versions: A Provincial Life, The Merry-Go-Round, The Cherry Orchard, Touch And Go, As I Lay Dying, The Seagull

Designer William Dudley Theatre includes: For the Royal Court: Small Change, The Fool, Edmund, Hamlet, Etta Jenks, Kafka's Dick, I Licked A Slag's Deodorant; For the RSC: Ivanov, That Good Between Us, Richard III, The Party, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Country Dancing, The General From America, Marya, Hamlet, The Ship and The Big Picnic; In the West End: I Claudius, Mutiny!, Kiss Me Kate, Girlfriends, Matador, Heartbreak House, My Night With Reg, Rat In The Skull, A Streetcar Named Desire, Lenny, Entertaining Mr Sloane and Blue/Orange; For the RNT: Lavender Blue, Larkrise To Candleford, Lost Worlds, The World Turned Upside Down, Undiscovered Country, Dispatches, Don Quixote, Schweyk In The Second World War, The Real Inspector Hound, The Critic And The Mysteries, Entertaining Strangers, Waiting For Godot, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Shaughraun, The Changeling, Bartholomew Fair, The Voysey Inheritance, The Crucible, The Coup, Pygmalion, The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, On The Ledge, Johnny On A Spot, Under Milk Wood, Wild Oats, Mary Stuart, The Alchemist, The Homecoming, The London Cuckolds, Cleo Camping Emmanuelle And Dick, The Forest Blue/Orange and All My Sons; Some Sunny Day at Hampstead; The Deep Blue Sea and Tongue Of A Bird at the Almeida; Amadeus at the Old Vic and Broadway; The Dance Of The Vampires in Vienna

Opera includes: Idomeneo for WNO; Billy Budd for Metropolitan Opera; Barber Of Seville and Seraglio at Glyndebourne; Tales Of Hoffman, Der Rosenkavalier, Don Giovanni and The Cunning Little Vixen at the ROM; The Ring Cycle at Bayreuth; Un Ballo In Maschera at the Salzburg Festival; Lucia Di Lammermoor in Chicago and at Opera National de Paris, The Silver Tassle for the ENO

Film: Persuasion, The Rose Theatre

Lighting Designer Hartley T A Kemp Theatre: For the Almeida: Certain Young Men, Tongue of a Bird and The Doctor's Dilemma; For the RSC: The Merchant of Venice; For the Donmar Warehouse: Passion Play and Good; For the Crucible, Sheffield: Don Juan, The Country Wife, As You Like It, A View From the Bridge, Twelfth Night and Queuing for Everest; For the Oxford Stage

Company at the Whitehall: Fifty Revolutions; For the West Yorkshire Playhouse: Dealer's Choice; For the Royal Court Upstairs: Faith; for Pluto Productions at the New End: The Disputation and The Queen of Spades and I; For the Southwark Playhouse: Thieves Like Us, In the Jungle of Cities, Rosmersholm and Seascape with Sharks and Dancer; At the Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbruck: Showboat and West Side Story; At the Arts Centre: Dorian; At the Theatre Royal, Hanley: Jesus Christ - Superstar; At the Old Fire Station, Oxford -.Assassins and Sweet Lorraine; At the Georgian Theatre, Richmond and on tour: The Happy Prince

Opera: For the ROH Linbury Studio: Mary Seacole, Oreste and Oresteia; For Opera Holland Park: Iris; For Castleward Opera: Madame Butterfly, Martha, The Barber of Seville, La Sonnambula and Carmen; For London City Opera, Chichester Festival and on tour: Die Fledermaus; For the QEH and on tour: The Marriage of Figaro Hartley is also Artistic Director for C venues at the Edinburgh Festival

Composer Terry Davies For English Touring Theatre: Hushabye Mountain, The School for Scandal

Theatre: For the RSC. Alice in Wonderland, A Patriot for Me, New England and Coriolanus; For the RNT: Luther, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, The Misanthrope, Neaptide, The Festival of New Plays, Antigone and Tales from Hollywood; For Regent's Park: Love's Labour's Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night; The Lady in the Van at the Birmingham Rep; Speed-the-Plow at the Duke of York's; Alarms and Excursions at the Gielgud; Tongue of a Bird at the Almeida; Kes! - The Musical for Bolton Octagon and York Theatre Royal; The Snow Queen at Theatr Clywd; Goldhawk Road at the Bush; Uncle Vanya for Field Day; The Way of the World at the Lyric, Hammersmith; Richard III for the Icelandic National; The Birds - A Musical for Istanbul City Theatre

Dance: The Car Man

Film: As Orchestrator / Conductor: The Magic of Vincent, The Lawless Heart, The Parole Officer, The Sleeping Dictionary, Born Romantic, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The War Zone, Perdita Durango, Cousin Bette and Photographing Fairies

Assistant Director Josie Rourke Theatre as Assistant Director: Dangerous Comer at Watford Palace; Passion Play at the Donmar Warehouse and the Comedy; Merrily We Roll Along, Orpheus Descending, To the Green Fields Beyond and Boston Marriage at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre as Director: Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas at the Dario Fo Festival; Henry IV Part I at the Edinburgh Festival; The Wrong Side of the Rainbow at the Donmar Warehouse

Forthcoming projects as a Director: Kick for Touch by Peter Gill for Sheffield Theatres

Dialect Coach Jeanette Nelson
Casting Director Toby Whale
Production Manager Simon Curtis
Technical Manager Rupert Barth Von Wehrenalp
Company Stage Manager Annabel Ingram
Deputy Stage Manager Claire Casburn
Assistant Stage Manager Maxine Foo
Technical Stage Manager Jai Lusser
Wardrobe Supervisor Margie Bailey
Wardrobe Mistress Joan Hughes
Production Electrician Malcolm Rippeth
Props and set dressing Sara Perks
BSL interpretation Stagesign
Audio description Vocaleyes
Production photography Ivan Kyncl
Stage management work placement from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Erika van Doorn

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