The last production I saw by the company GNOP was a bit of a disaster, and you may recall that, to my surprise, I was informed by the playwright that its failings were all my fault and as an audience member I should enjoy it or shut up, or something. Still, I'm not one to stay away from the scene of the crime, and director Adam Spreadbury-Maher has done work I've liked before so no reason to condemn him on just one production. Besides, The York Realist stars Stephen Hagan, who is a big favourite Round These Parts so I was never that likely to steer clear. You may notice the Stephen Hagan avatar is not, this time, accompanied by a Scrolling!Nudity alert - well come on, he can't get his willy out every time or he'll get a reputation. He does strip down to his pants though.
Happily this isn't the only good thing about the play - Peter Gill's moody story of a tiny farming cottage in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire. Although there's a gay relationship at the centre of the story, it's less of a "gay" play and more of a family drama. In 1961 George (Hagan) lives in the cottage with his ailing mother (Stephanie Fayerman) while his sister (Fiona Gordon,) her husband (Sam Hazeldine) and their son (Jack Blumenau) live nearby, and a local woman (Sarah Waddell) is in love with him while clearly realising it's not reciprocated. George's only reason to get away has been weekly rehearsals in York for a production of the Mystery Cycle, but he's missed a lot due to his mother's health and the assistant director (Matthew Burton) comes to the cottage to try and get him back. This leads to the two of them starting a relationship, and ultimately once George's mother dies, they clash as John wants him to move down to London with him and pursue an acting career.
This is the basic storyline but largely Gill is telling a story about the minutiae of family life, including lots of long pauses as people make tea, wash up or fill hot water bottles. Its charm and well-written dialogue means this is a lot more absorbing than it sounds, and the whole cast are very good, and seem to my ears at least to have particularly accurate Yorkshire accents. And can Hagan please hurry up and become a superstar soon, I've been predicting it for long enough, I'm going to start looking like a liar.
Gill was the founder of Riverside Studios and this production there is to celebrate his 70th birthday, which in fact was today - a fact marked by him doing a Q&A session after the play. He was pretty interesting, clearly very knowledgeable about theatre history, and had some interesting tidbits about the play's conception - such as how one of the reasons for writing it was his sadness that in the '50s and early '60s talented actors who happened to have regional accents were pretty much unable to pursue it as a career because it wasn't the accepted norm at the time. An interesting evening all round.
The York Realist by Peter Gill is booking until the 11th of October at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith.