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The York Realist - Garrick Theatre

Reviewed by Chris McRae

 

A beautifully written play first published in 2001, Peter Gill’s ‘The York Realist’ comes to the stage at Garrick Theatre this July and is a perfect choice for lovers of strong, character-driven drama. Directed by renowned director Barry Park, this sensitive and extremely well-executed adaptation

is playing at Garrick Theatre in Guildford until the 22nd of July.


Set in a farmer’s cottage near York in the 1960s, the play centres on farm labourer George (Alex Comstock) who, whilst taking part in an amateur production of ‘The York Mystery Plays’, finds himself drawn to and falling for the eloquent Assistant Director John (Sean Wcislo). What follows is a beautifully sensitive story which chronicles their relationship which plays out in secret unbeknownst to George’s family due to the taboo nature of the relationship in the context of the place and time. Alex Comstock anchors this play with a moving and layered performance as George. He demonstrates likeability from the outset as the relationships with his Mother (Lis Hoffman), sister Barbara (Louise Plant), brother-in-law Arthur (Phil Bedworth), nephew Jack (Keaton Humphreys) and family friend Doreen (Roxanne O’Connor) are established. As he begins to find himself drawn to John, we see a much deeper pain inside George which Comstock delivers in an impressive manner.


Equally strong is Sean Wcislo who brings a beautiful tenderness to John. You can see how he yearns for George but struggles with societal views and the contrast between his existence in the city and the rural lifestyle. Lis Hoffman is at her very best as Mother and demonstrates a deep love and care for her family, just wanting them all to be happy despite her ailing health. Even though George does his best to hide his relationship with John from her, Hoffman’s subtle characterisation choices communicate her understanding (and perhaps a sense of knowing) in a wonderfully executed performance. Louise Plant is incredibly believable and authentic as Barbara and her relationship with George is a wonderful journey to witness. Completing the family dynamic is a sensitive performance from Phil Bedworth as Arthur and a highly likeable and impressive performance from up-and-coming youngster Keaton Humphreys as Jack. Roxanne O’Connor completes this incredibly strong cast as the ever-positive family friend Doreen, bringing a lovely, light portrayal to this character. This is truly an ensemble piece with not a weak link in the cast.


The set design (which was inspired by Peter McKintosh’s design for the 2018 Donmar Warehouse and Sheffield Theatre’s co-production) very cleverly utilises Garrick’s deep yet narrow stage, creating the singular location of the Yorkshire farmhouse kitchen and dining area. Clever lighting design by Mark Nicholson compliments the inviting set (impressively constructed by Alastair and Karen Woodcock) and a sense of depth is created with the addition of stairs inset into one of the upstage door entrances as well as back lighting for the windows and external areas of the cottage. It really gave the feeling of the whole cottage existing beyond what was visible. The attention to detail was also extremely impressive with a fire inside the stove, running water and cups of steaming tea adding realism, a testament to the efforts of Ursula Kotura, Roxanne Moore and Andy Markland.


Cast member Phil Bedworth also doubled as the dialect coach for the tricky and very iconic Yorkshire accent. Each cast member delivers the accent with aplomb and the consistency of these added to the believability and authenticity of the story. Costumes were also simple yet very effective and authentic to the time period thanks to some clever research and choices by costumier Nyree Hughes.


Barry Park’s experience in tackling strong scripts shone through in this production. He has delivered a beautifully sensitive love story and you can feel the heartbreak as a relationship that was considered sinful in the 1960s is explored. There are moments of pause in which you can feel the pain between George and John. Moments such as when John delivers the line “you can either marry or burn” are delivered with such weight that the audience truly empathises with these characters and their heartbreaking reality. Every character’s choices are natural, purposeful and intentional and this play feels real from the dialogue to the the setting and the characterisations.


‘The York Realist’ is one of this year’s finest community theatre offerings so far and the entire cast and crew is to be congratulated on this moving piece of theatre. Highly recommended.

The Cast of The York Realist at Garrick Theatre

Reviewer Note: Chris has directed and acted alongside a member of this cast. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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