It’s a tense moment when you go to see a new production of a play that you’ve enjoyed in the past, especially one that made an indelible impression, and that lives vividly in the memory.
When Peter Gill directed his own play The York Realist at the Royal Court in 2001, its critical success launched it into the West End at the Novello for a successful run. Mike and I saw it in both theatres, and it seemed to get better on each occasion.
Would the new production at the Donmar live up to our memory of it, or would we be disappointed? We’d been assured by trusted friends that it was good – but how good? We needn’t have worried. From the moment we set eyes on Peter McKintosh’s set, we were swept back to a Yorkshire farm around 1963, and every detail of the production – people disappearing into the kitchen to make tea, the kettle whistling as it comes to the boil, the rattle of the biscuit tin being opened in the pantry, the clothes airing on the drier – created the world of the play: the world that George, the leading character, has made his own and feels secure in.
As the familiar story unfolded, with expert character work from a flawless cast led by charismatic Ben Batt as George, we were once again absorbed and moved by the depiction of life on a Yorkshire farm. When the thunderous applause died down, the Executive Producer of the Donmar Kate Pakenham introduced director Rob Hastie, and asked him about his history with the play.
When Rob was a drama student in 2001, his flat-mate Josie Rourke – subsequently Artistic Director of the Donmar – was Peter Gill’s assistant on the first production of the play. While they were casting it...