Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

It continues to be grim up north. Especially if you’re gay – The York Realist comes to the Donmar Warehouse.

“It was very Yorkshire wasn’t it, not that I mind”

I’d decided not to bother with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The York Realist and such is karma, I found myself offered a ticket on a night when I had nothing but laundry planned. And so off to Covent Garden for gay northerners I went.

I first saw the play in the first year of my blogging life, in a production at the now-defunct Riverside Studios, but I would be lying if I said I could remember too much about it (that’s why I blog, so I don’t have to remember!). By all accounts, I was well out of whack with those who declare it a modern classic… Continue reading “Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National

#3 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Well join the radical wing of the movement where to be really queer you have, as it were, to nail your foreskin to the transgressive mast. Literally it seems, on occasion.”

I have to admit to not necessarily being the greatest fan of Peter Gill’s writing and seeing a reading of one of his plays after having partaken of a little of the Pride festivities on Saturday afternoon was definitely not one of my wiser moves. But I wanted the complete set of these readings and so I sat down for 2009’s Certain Young Men.

Following the lives of four gay couples and told predominantly in duologues, it had the slight sense of yet another version of La Ronde as established pairings disintegrate and new ones reform. It is more complex than that, as it seeks to present varied and various forms of gay personalities and relationships, resisting the easy definition of a gay community to present a heterogenous grouping of homosexual men with multiple and conflicting desires. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National”

National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series

Not content with reviving the landmark drama Angels in America, the National Theatre will mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales by staging its first Queer Theatre event series from 6th – 10th July 2017.

A group of world class actors and directors will look at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings and post-show discussions in the Lyttelton Theatre. And looking at the list of readings announced below, it’s good to see a diversity of sexualities being represented and I hope that the rest of the programme continues to explore LBT+ lives as well as the G. Continue reading “National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series”

Review: As Good A Time As Any, Print Room

“It’s very peaceful…”

It’s often that the mind thinks to compare Peter Gill with Simon Stephens but sitting through the former’s self-directed new play As Good A Time As Any in the surroundings of the Print Room at the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill, one couldn’t help but wonder what a different director might have made of it. The playtext for Stephens’ Carmen Disruption allows for, even actively encourages, directorial innovation, offering up a world of theatrical potential (in this case, ingeniously realised by Michael Longhurst) but there’s little of that imagination spilling forth from Gill.

Which is not to denigrate the quality of the writing here, which has a hypnotically compelling quality that transports its naturalism to a higher plane. The play consists of eight women sharing their everyday thoughts in all their banal humdrumness, divided into five choruses that break up the rhythm and interweaving with each other to demonstrate that no matter how different we think we are from the person across the street, the stranger sat opposite on the tube, the seatmate in a never-changing waiting room, we’re all pretty much the same, thinking pretty much the same thoughts. Continue reading “Review: As Good A Time As Any, Print Room”

Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse

“Democracy…such an un-English word”

Expectations for Peter Gill’s Versailles were quite low due to a number of factors – a five star review from Billington; my reaction to Making Noise Quickly, Gill’s last directorial intervention at the Donmar; the announcement of a running time of 3 hours; and decidedly mixed chatter from friends who had already seen it. And as it often the way with these things, I ended up rather enjoying it. It certainly helped that I was prepared for the extreme steadiness of its pacing and the dip of the second act of this self-directed play.

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, Gill examines and contrasts the impact of the peace process of Versailles on a Europe ravaged by conflict and also on a slice of middle-class English society, notably Kentish families the Rawlinsons and the Chaters. Leonard Rawlinson is a young civil servant involved in the negotiations for the treaty but he is haunted by both his doubts of whether a lasting peace can be achieved through these means and the ghost of his fallen soldier lover Gerald, who just happened to be the son of the neighbouring Chaters.  Continue reading “Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The York Realist, Riverside Studios

“Foxes their dens have they
Birds have their nests so gay
But the son of man
Has not where his head may rest.”

The York Realist is one of Peter Gill’s most well-known plays, and was revived here at Hammersmith Riverside Studios, a theatre co-founded by Gill, as part of his 70th birthday celebrations.

It tells the story of George, a Yorkshire farm worker content with his lot in life, until his participation in a production of the York Mystery Plays throws open a new world of possibilities and choices. He discovers a talent for acting, and a relationship with the assistant director blossoms, leading him to the chance of a career acting on the stage in London. But his ties to his home life are incredibly strong, most notably in the form of his ailing mother, and George finds himself torn between these two worlds, these opposing facets to his life which he finds impossible to reconcile. Continue reading “Review: The York Realist, Riverside Studios”

Review: Small Change, Donmar Warehouse

Partly based on his own experiences as a boy in Cardiff, Small Change is one of Peter Gill’s earlier plays, revived here at the Donmar Warehouse. It covers the efforts of two boys in 1950s Cardiff to remove themselves from their mothers’ apron strings, but also with the complex relationship between the two, struggling to grasp their true feelings for each other in a world where homosexuality is incomprehensible and illegal. But as it is a memory play, we also see the characters later in life and the action flits around the timeline showing how the past and present are inextricably linked and indeed their impact on the future.
The extremely simple staging, just four chairs at random angles, a floating shelf on a brick wall at the back and an unadorned red raked stage means that the focus is squarely on the prose which is heavily poetical. But whilst there is no doubting the quality of the acting onstage and the obvious emotion invested in the depiction of unresolved homosexual yearning and the drudgery of housewifery, it rarely fully captivated the attention as it is just so very lyrical and Gill’s writing often veers to the elliptical and obtuse.

This is partly due to the structure: the play constantly shifts around in time with repeated lines and recurring motifs echoing around but instead of being moving, I found myself getting increasingly irritated with the repetition. And there seemed something a little artificial about the evocation of working class language, a romanticism which was a little too rose-tinted for my liking.
The acting is predictably strong, led by the incomparable Sue Johnston with her stoic and strong Mrs Harte contrasted with Lindsey Coulson’s much more nervous and despairing Mrs Driscoll, struggling under the weight of a large family and brutal husband. Matt Ryan and Luke Evans had a lovely chemistry as the two boys who never quite managed to chase the dream of love between the two, each following their own paths. On the one hand it was nice not to see full-blown ‘pretending to be children’ acting from these two but equally, the subtlety with which it was played meant that it was never abundantly clear just when we were in the storyline.
Dull and uninvolving feels too harsh a description for this production given the strength of the acting, but I would struggle to recommend this to people as it ended up being quite a difficult play to like.