The York Realist – Sheffield Crucible

I normally would have reviewed this for The Stage or Exeunt, but as both sites covered it during the play’s London run last month (The Stage’s review is here, Exeunt’s is here), I thought I’d write a quick review here instead (especially as the lovely people at the Crucible were good enough to invite me to press night).

Ben Batt as George and Jonathan Bailey as John in The York Realist. Photo by Johan Persson.-min

The York Realist is a revival of Peter Gill’s 2001 play which opened at Salford’s Lowry before having runs in Bristol and at the Royal Court Theatre. It tells the story of George, a farmhand and aspiring actor and John, an assistant director from London who stages a production of The York Mystery Plays, which George has a starring role in.

George and John fall into a relationship, and Gill’s script tells of the troubles of a love affair that’s defined as much by class as it is gender. John wants George to move to London to follow his acting dream, while George feels like he has to stay in York as his class dictates that he can only ever work on a farm.

We first meet George and John after the former’s mother has died, and it’s clear from the start that there’s some sort of tension between them. Quickly, we flashback to when they first meet, and also get to see George’s family. It’s a clever structure and one that pulls you into the play straight away.

The cast of The York Realist. Photo by Johan Persson.

A play about a doomed love affair may seem a depressing one, but nothing could be further from the truth in The York Realist. It’s one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in quite a while, and although it premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London, Sheffield feels like its natural home – there is plenty of Yorkshire humour which receives knowing chuckles at the Crucible, and Gill’s naturalistic dialogue is absolutely whip-smart.

Ben Batt, who you may remember from Channel 4’s Shameless, is absolutely magnificent as George, completely confident in his sexuality, but wildly insecure about his social standing. His monologue about the delights of London (“dinner…at night!”) is worth the price of admission alone. Jonathan Bailey is equally good as John, George’s polar opposite, all puppyish enthusiasm about visiting “the North” but obviously far more at home back in the capital.

Lesley Nicol and Ben Batt as Mother and George in The York Realist. Photo by Johan Persson.-min

There’s good support from Brian Fletcher (making his professional theatre debut) as George’s droll nephew Jack, and a poignant performance from Katie West as Doreen, the local girl who holds a torch for George, even though she knows it can never be. West was absolutely superlative in Simon Stephen’s Blindsided at Manchester’s Royal Exchange a few years ago, and it’s surely only a matter of time before she becomes a huge star.

Although this is being held in the Crucible’s main space, it’s the sort of small, intimate piece that would work equally well in the Studio. Peter McKintosh’s immaculately designed set of a country cottage pulls you into the action, and you feel like you’re sat in the front room with the family.

After the excellent Chicken Soup and Frost/Nixon, Robert Hastie (who directs this with flair and style) is really helming a superb season for Sheffield Theatres.

The York Realist runs until April 7th. For more information, please visit https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-york-realist

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