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Brighton Year-Round 2022

The York Realist

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Drama, LGBT, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Studio


Low Down

Directed by Claire Lewis, Assistant Director Emmie Spencer,

Production Manager Ulrike Schilling, Stage Manager Bryony Weaver.

Set Design Michael Folkard, Set Construction John Everett, Simon Glazier, George Walter.

Costume Design Pat Boxall, Makeup & Hair Richi Blennerhassett

Lighting Design Strat Mastoris & Rigging Strat Mastoris, Will Scott, Sound Design Richard Lindfield, Costume Design The Directors

Light Operation Alex Epps, Sound Operation Michael Pegley, Apollo Videaux

ASMs Carrie Hynds, Gaby Bowring, Natalie Sacks, Terri Challis.

Pops SM Crew, Claire Kewis, Katie Brownings

Poster/Programme Strat & Tamsin Mastoris, Production Co-Ordinator Tom Kitch, Photographer Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Emmie Spencer. Apollo Videaux. Health and Safety Ian Black.

There’s fulsome thanks to many individuals and bodies including Gladrags, Latest TV and Brighton Little Theatre. This proves a Guild/community play in the same spirit.

TIll November 12th


The York Realist doesn’t just pun sadly on the chief protagonist and his relation with his own culture – acting in the medieval York Realist’s Mystery plays as directed by Londoners. It signals the way Cardiff-born Peter Gill became a realist too in this 2002 play, now revived at the NVT by Claire Lewis. In doing so she reaffirms it a modern classic.

Restlessly experimental, reviver of D. H. Lawrence, founder of Hammersmith and National Theatre studios, Peter Gill’s one of our greatest, most under-sung playwrights – partly because he’s so great a director too. The Donmar premiere of Gill’s magnificent Versailles of 2014 and 2018 revival of The York Realist there confirms a different Gill: more comfortable with naturalism, and as director, full circle to Lawrence. Gill advised on this production.

Michael Folkard’s single-set is the finest I’ve seen at NVT. A cottage space anchors an old black Aga-style range planted upstage centre, a detailed kitchen stage right, including a working Belfast sink, shabby period-light-sage cupboards, stove and two doors. Left a third door where the tables and chairs, and a dresser lower over food served and consumed (new pie every evening), and the painted flagstones complete it. ‘It’s old’ agrees protagonist George simply as assistant director John speculates on its antiquity. A bit biblical, which fits this work.

Strat Mastoris’ lighting suggests a slant-bright Yorkshire day – set on a remote farm just outside York. It’s when the shadows fall that Richard Lindfield’s evocative sound emerges, perfect save for coming on at the last words when beats of silence are needed.

Enveloped in 1963, the work fluidly melts backwards a year (excellently done) and forwards again towards the end. We discover farm labourer George’s admirer, John, has come to reclaim him from dropping out of the York Mysteries he’s assistant-directing. Gill found himself in such a position under William Gaskell, but John’s no Gill. John can admire something for being old, like a range, because he’s a tourist in his own country. John’s admonition to save the range succeeds. As does his bid to reclaim George as a superb realist hammering nails into Jesus in the York Realist’s Crucifixion play, mounted by the Pinners (the guild who supplied nails).

Chris Church’s John appeals as both still wet between the London estuaries, occasionally too much so, but sincere: ‘I haven’t come for a fuck’ he pleads later. Pitching callowness he’s no stereotype but a man in the shock of sexual attraction. As the two men walk out to the deserted cottage once housed by George’s sister and brother-in-law you want to see shining evening faces on their return. Church’s great moment comes in the final scene, matching George in a harrowing zero-sum.

And George appreciates what London offers in a doxology, his longest speech. He clacks off its cultural allurements of galleries, Oxford Street, ballets, theatre. Returning after his leading role in the magnificent Consent last June, Will Mytum’s slow-release angst acts like a dry-stone wall against the force of John’s arguments: porous but enduring. ‘I live here’ his riposte to all that’s offered comes like ‘because it is my name’; or more closely since these are Chapel folk ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ Mytum though brings an explosive release to George I’d not seen even in the superb Donmar revival. There’s a level of detail that’s unforgettable and makes it one of the greatest performances I’ve seen at NVT.

What none of this can convey is Gill’s deft sashaying in and out of recent past, to George’s and John’s first meeting where unnamed Mother – dead at the play’s opening – bustles in to record their very first meeting. There’s a knot of time near the end when for ten seconds three moments are played simultaneously. It’s just a bubble of Gill’s more modernist self escaping to underscore how everything unravels.

Two themes plainly emerge. There’s no opposition to George as actor – his family and friends are awed – or, tacitly, in his being gay. Conflicts arise from George himself; that’s what’s so illuminating and original. The other is the age-old town/country divide, only partly of circumstance.

Around the achingly locked lovers constellate Nikki Dunsford’s richly under-emphasised Mother, ever spoiling George but somehow never embittering his sister Barbara (NYT actor-director Amelia Thurley, also very strong), the shrewd, never acid elder who gently tells George’s admirer Doreen – who put him up to the Mysteries in the first place – that George isn’t the marrying kind. In spite of her chapel-going and attachment to Mother, Doreen knows. She’s not simply conniving to get closer to George, though she equally can’t help herself: his sensitivity and shrouded erudition are just some of the attractions for this Sunday school teacher.

Ilkeston-born playwright Sophie Bloor’s hesitant hopeless love is one of the Gill-like jewels of this production (as was the Donmar’s Doreen); and Mytum allows it to seep through in a typical Gill-like quibble: ’Well, no. I dunno. I’m all right’ to John’s probing about what being ‘sorted’ with Doreen means.

Bloor’s facial expressions are astonishingly detailed and makes hers the other great performance of the evening – indeed it’s also to Lewis’ credit she can pull in a cast with such CVs. Bloor flickers excitement on first meeting a real director like John, then watchfulness, steel, bitter resolve, and fright when she overbalances a situation at the end. Bloor’s wave-lapping assertions, her ultimately taking over Mother’s role – symbolically asking George to put out some bulbs at a crucial point – attest to a long game; growth and a future. But she’s no clear wrecker either. When John makes one decision, Doreen’s terrified he’ll leave and calls George to stop him.

Barbara’s badinage signposts knowingness. Thurley’s skill in cheery raillery through muted warmth turns rapidly when dealing with her son Jack (an assured debut in gawk and angle by Bertie Hawes) and her phlegmatically good-natured husband Arthur. Deepening the impression he made in Cock, Lewis Todhunter’s bluffness here portrays one of those concealed encounters between a nominally heterosexual man and one who knows himself as George does. It’s there in Gill’s 1997 Cardiff East and Gill repeats his subtle undermining project of refusing to confine being gay to self-identified characters. It can happen to almost anyone, he suggests, who breathe in an air of denial.

It’s what Arthur and George have long settled. Mytum and Todhunter exude a homeopathic touch of the tenderness of George’s with John in their ease with each other. And there’s humour here too, not just badinage in the swirl of familial quips and quirks, and mute gazes on John’s arrival. ‘God had a good good voice, didn’t he? Very clear’ says Mother. ‘Our George was cruel in the crucifixion, though’ adds Barbara.

Ultimately though it’s Mytum, Church’s and Bloor’s interactions that make this production soar. Mytum’s and Bloor’s final scenes harrow with the unspoken: first loud, then mute. Church rises to Mytum’s magnificent pitch in a stunning finale.

Gill’s absolutely clear this disjunction of male tenderness won’t be derailed or saved by anything but the two characters themselves. It’s a refusal to allow a love affair to be victim of human circumstance; only birth and place alone can sunder them. This production realises Gill’s quiet universality. By the close, when George quotes lines from the York Realist (not from the Crucifixion, though) we’re on another plane from a superb play about love. It must leave you on the floor. It does. Mytum is definitive here – and I’m no newcomer to this play. Just one detail. The final line’s ‘Has not where his head he may rest.’ Mytum changes ‘not’ to ‘nowt’ shifting the lack of ‘not’ to nowt’s nothingness.

This production confirms this play as one of the finest British works of the 21st century. Another, David Eldridge’s Beginning, is scheduled here next spring.

It’s the Cardiff master’s outstanding play too, as he might have been so termed in 1450, and this NVT revival in some ways outsoars even the Donmar. Gill’s latest play Something in the Air, co-directed by him, runs till the 12th at Jermyn Street Theatre. See that too while you can.

The York Realist ’s sold out: put your name on the waiting list and queue in the rain.