The York Realist, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until June 22
Was Jesus Christ Yorkshire? The question is posed by an innocent family character in this remarkable little play.
The idea is not even debatable, of course. Yet it’s a key to some brilliantly subtle underscoring by author Peter Gill. And my describing the piece as little merely reflects the fact that at 90 minutes it’s quite short although, in its own quiet way, no less effective than the barnstorming brilliance of the Loft’s previous production The Crucible.
The link arises through the 1960s background of the York Mystery Plays and the indirect impact they have on a homespun farm-working unit. In this old-style environment where tea is consumed by the gallon and pies are dished up with a dash of Carnation, life looks to be gloriously uncomplicated.
But then son George, who is making a surprising success of his role in the Mystery Plays, discovers his sexual awakening with assistant director John.
This second layer of the drama is explored with great sensitivity in the writing and in the fine performance of Huw Saunders, evoking the restless frustration and essential honesty of George. His relationship with John, played with moments of matching skill by Ed Statham, is tastefully realised after the play’s somewhat sketchy opening.
Humour matches insight through Martin Cosgrif’s alert but sympathetic direction, never more so than in George’s first-night return to his family’s ecstatic acclaim. Here the performances of Juliet Grundy, as mesmerising a Yorkshire mum as one could wish for, and Hannah Brown, Laura Hayward, Christopher Stanford and young Gilon Fox are quite delightful.
In its attitudes to the era, when crime cast a dark shadow over such a love affair, and with Richard Moore’s splendidly domestic set design, the play is constantly resonant of a time not so long past.
The Loft should be applauded for providing, in the wake of an obvious crowd pleaser, what could otherwise remain a hidden gem.
ABOVE: Huw Saunders (George) and Ed Statham (John). Picture by Richard Smith Photography.