Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

It continues to be grim up north. Especially if you’re gay – The York Realist comes to the Donmar Warehouse.

“It was very Yorkshire wasn’t it, not that I mind”

I’d decided not to bother with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The York Realist and such is karma, I found myself offered a ticket on a night when I had nothing but laundry planned. And so off to Covent Garden for gay northerners I went.

I first saw the play in the first year of my blogging life, in a production at the now-defunct Riverside Studios, but I would be lying if I said I could remember too much about it (that’s why I blog, so I don’t have to remember!). By all accounts, I was well out of whack with those who declare it a modern classic…

Nearly ten years down the line, I’ll happily revise my opinion but not quite that far. Robert Hastie’s production here is beautifully acted – the restraint of Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey as an unlikely couple brought together by a production of the York Mystery Plays but kept apart by the vast chasm of 1960s social propriety.

Subtle undercurrents dominate here as though the sexual attraction is never in doubt, it is the class differential that is the main barrier. Bailey’s John is a Londoner through and through but Batt’s George is just as obstinately Yorkshire, perhaps more so in the way he refuses to conform to what he perceives he would need to do to pursue the acting career John so wants for him.

Peter McKintosh’s rural set design is beautiful to look at. And there’s sterling support from Lesley Nicol as George’s redoubtable mother, and Lucy Black and Katie West as his sister and long-time-intended who circle the truth around the relationship between these two men. Good, very good even, but still not quite modern classic territory for me.   

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
The York Realist is booking at the Donmar Warehouse until 24th March, and plays Sheffield Crucible from 27th March until 7th April

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