The York Realist may very well be a contemporary classic, but it doesn't advertise itself as such. It's one of those beautiful, tender, understated plays that works entirely by stealth; there's no great dramatic revelation or pay-off, just a quiet accumulation of detail and suppressed emotions as we follow the budding relationship between a young Yorkshire farmer (still living at home with mum) and the assistant director of the York Mystery Plays that he's signed up to appear in.
Playwright Peter Gill is known for his DH Lawrence-like plays that capture the naturalistic pulse of real life; and those virtues are tremendously shown in this rueful, truthful and ultimately quietly heartbreaking account of two men whose palpable love for each other can't overcome the ties that one has to the country and the other to the metropolitan city.
Director Robert Hastie, who previously directed the decidedly metropolitan portrait of gay life My Night with Reg for the Donmar Warehouse that subsequently transferred to the West End, is alive to every nuance and buried emotion in the play; to see the way that Jonathan Bailey's John rests a hand on the shoulder of Ben Batt's George as he chats to his mother at the breakfast table is charged with feeling.
These two sublime actors are most subtle when silent; it's what is unsaid between them that carries the most meaning. But the play is also vividly peopled by others from George's community, including his mother (Lesley Nicol, the cook from Downton Abbey), sister (Lucy Black), nephew (Brian Fletcher) and neighbour (Katie West) that root it in honesty and truth.
It's one of the loveliest plays in London, and staged with ideally cast restraint.
Photo credit Johan Persson