After playing to enthusiastic reviews at the Donmar Warehouse, Peter Gill’s 2001 play about the north-south divide appropriately has arrived in Sheffield for the remainder of its run.
To describe it as such does this wonderful piece of naturalistic theatre a disservice as it’s ‘about’ so many other things - class, the clash between the city and the countryside, and most importantly, what remains unsaid and what lurks beneath the surface of conversation and language.
It’s the story of George, a young Yorkshire farmer, and John, a middle-class southerner, in York as assistant director of the Mystery Plays, who fall in love, and then struggle to find a way of reconciling their respective lifestyles.
Gill set the play in the early 1960s but what is so interesting is that the two men are not separated by homophobia – their relationship is tacitly accepted if not acknowledged by George’s family – but because neither can be uprooted from what they see as their natural place in the world.
Rob Hastie directs with sensitivity and subtlety, and the piece is beautifully played by a note-perfect cast. The two leads are superb; Ben Batt as George, all hands in pockets awkwardness and stifled inarticulacy, is the emotional core of the piece, the gruff ‘realist’ of the title.
Jonathan Bailey as John, whose delight at the discovery of the north and all its beauties is as much to do with his newfound passion for his hunky farmer, is equally strong. They never touch and yet their looks and body language convey worlds of passion.
It’s very funny too, and the first half is full of chat and Yorkshire humour that Gill captures perfectly. Lesley Nichol as George’s kindly mum fussing around her kitchen making endless cups of tea is terrific, and special mention for Brian Fletcher as George’s gawky teenage nephew Jack, making his stage debut.
The design deserves praise too – Peter Macintosh’s stone cottage interior with a big screen backdrop of a changing Yorkshire landscape is effective. This is a first-rate production and another palpable hit for Hastie, after last year’s mesmerising Julius Caesar.