The York Realist

Peter Gill
Produced by Good Night Out
Riverside Studios

Publicity photo

A story of a forbidden love is always going to have its tensions and complications, especially when the protagonists are male and it's set in the early 1960s in a small farming community. A sort of a Brokeback Mountain set in Yorkshire; Peter Gill's Olivier Award nominated The York Realist is ultimately a very lonely tale.

Two men: George (Stephen Hagan) who lives with his mother in a small labourer's cottage and John (Matthew Burton) an assistant director up from London working on the Mystery Plays in which George gets a part. George's family brushes over the fact that he still lives with his Mother and is not interested in any of the local girls. Completely clueless, his close-knit family have no idea of his extra curricular activities.

Interestingly it is he rather than cosmopolitan John who is at ease with his homosexuality. Not that it's something he can parade in front of the local folk: it is 1961 after all but behind closed doors he is very comfortable with himself. Much like Brokeback Mountain after their summer of love (or winter as is the case in this play) is over and John has to return to London, they are both left to face the reality of their situation.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher's production is nostalgic without being stuffy. Home baked apple pie, several pots of tea and an elderly mother doing all her son's laundry create a warm and cosy feeling within. Meanwhile the rug is being pulled out from under your feet with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. A family that chatter endlessly about nothing in order to avoid what really needs to be said, they remain oblivious to George's inner turmoil.

This impressive cast take a very London audience out of the city and into Mother's front room. It's all very claustrophobic yet well meaning and there's no chance of missing anything either as they all talk in that slightly too loud way of speaking to each other, to be sure that everyone in the front room can hear even though they are all sat around the same small table. Stephanie Fayerman as Mother gives a tender and moving performance of a woman whose son is the apple of her eye and Sarah Wadell as the well meaning neighbour Doreen whose heart is sadly wasted on George adds some light humour whilst avoiding the trap of being the caricature religious do-gooder.

Hagen and Burton have a natural chemistry as these two men from very different worlds who find a mutual love and respect for each other. Hagen is adorable as the slightly simple George but still rivers run deep and his rivers are at times heartbreaking. Burton turns in an equally brilliant performance. He's middle class without being pompous and whilst he may not wear his heart on his sleeve like George, his pain is just as palpable. The sexual tension between these two men is made all the more unbearable as Spreadbury-Maher's direction allows us to think everything but see very little.

This really is a traditional love story like many others (although probably not the sort of love Mother had imagined for her boy). Two people meet and fall in love and have to overcome various obstacles that will either make them stronger or break them .Ah they don't make 'em like they used to.

Playing until 11th October

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan