Donmar Warehouse, London – until 24 March
Peter Gill’s 2001 play is a beautifully moving and genuinely funny look at same-sex love. This glorious revival by Robert Hastie is natural and manages to say more in 130 minutes than many plays say in three hours. Nothing is force-fed or overdramatic but by the end, we genuinely care about the characters and believe what they’re going through.
The York Realist is about an assistant director who’s putting on an amateur production of the mystery plays. Ben Batt plays George who’s starring in the play but hasn’t been attending rehearsals so John (Jonathan Bailey) the young, well-spoken London director visits George’s Yorkshire farmhouse to persuade him to return to rehearsals.
There he meets George’s family and the two form a relationship. This is a show all about detail; it explores a gay relationship of course but there’s an equal amount of exploration about class, family, identity and grief.
It looks at the feeling of identity in terms of where you live and were brought up, with Gill’s writing having its own identity with its glorious portrayal of Yorkshire and the community there.
The family kitchen feels truly authentic as we meet George’s mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and family friend. The conversation flows and the intimacy of the Donmar Warehouse allows us to appreciate every moment and enjoy this understated piece of theatre.
Batt is outstanding as the calm, buff Yorkshireman who struggles to leave his home and comforts behind; he manages to be strong but sensitive and gives a truly heart-warming performance. Bailey is an extraordinary delight who perfectly gives off the big-city vibe without ever being over the top or annoying to watch. Both actors show off their vulnerabilities to devise an intricate, touching world.
The snug Donmar Warehouse transformed by Peter McKintosh’s delightful cottage set provide a perfectly evocative setting. The detailed kitchen set is the perfect home for the cast of seven who seem as though they’ve spent their entire childhoods drinking tea in there.
This is a glorious show which creeps up on you slowly, naturally and beautifully. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend 130 minutes.