Going to the Donmar Warehouse is an intimate experience. The action happens so up close and personal, it is like being part of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Moreover, throughout the performance I am extremely conscious of my laboured breath because of a bad cold, as it feels amplified to the extreme in the many moments of silence and staring, while the actors try to gauge each other’s reaction on stage. The York Realist is a very British aﬀair, a country constantly analysing itself as if on an analyst’s sofa, constantly analysing its idiosyncrasies. A country priding itself on its liberalism though still very much divided into social classes, a nation obsessed with its internal division, a country still reeling from its collective denial of LBGT+ rights, same sex relationships were only decriminalised in the UK in 1967, a nation currently intent on creating even more barriers. It is interesting to view this very British play with my foreigner’s eyes. It is a play about northerners, a country apart, a country inside a country. It is a play about a gay relationship blossoming with everybody’s tacit, embarrassed consent. A relationship collapsing not because of it unlawfulness but because of the class divide, the artistic urban type abandoning his counterpart solidly rooted in his rural environment, not out of choice, but out of duty. George, the northerner, knows that all his lovers’ middle class friends who were so nice and polite to him when they met him in London, could only keep up their polite facade for a casual visit not should he move in permanently, certainly not if he ever tried to become serious with his acting ambitions, not with that accent. In the final confrontation, there is sheer fear in his eyes, he is destroyed by the thought of losing his man, but he knows he would be even devastated by the scorn of the middle classes, if he dared even think stepping out of the spot chosen for him in society. It would be a double dare as a northerner and a gay man, stealing the spotlight from people worthier by birth and upbringing. Superficial politeness did not disguise the covert message “you don’t belong here” enough. The protagonist would have been satisfied if they were to keep up a relationship at a distance, having something to look forward to, but John, the urbanite’s approach is all or nothing, “there’s nothing casual about our relationship”, he quips and nothing it is. The end is grim with the hopeful spinster building her silent web around the only bachelor in town, spinning it closer and closer, until the victim cannot see any way out. The final sentence should have been her appropriation of the cottage, planning the removal of the AGA cooker, hard work but a symbol of the protagonist’s forbidden love, the first item admired by his Londoner’s lover. The final statement about the impossibility of finding happiness as human being rings true but is slightly redundant. All in all The York Realist is a passionate, funny, heart-wrenching, brilliantly acted anthropological study.
The York Realist by Peter Gill 14 March 2018 Donmar Warehouse, London