Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court, London SW1
Opened 8 January, 2002

**** Wonderfully atmospheric, but too muted for some tastes

Peter Gill's story of a stymied gay love affair in rural 1960s Yorkshire is almost a throwback in its constant minor-key thoughtfulness.

In the Sixties at the Royal Court, Gill the director premiered the hitherto overlooked plays of D.H. Lawrence, and much of his own work as a playwright has a Lawrentian quality, showing the unrelenting hardness of working-class reality, the tightness of family bonds and the impossibility of bourgeois escape. Here, there is no hint that homosexuality is an issue to any character; rather George, a farm-worker with a minor role in the traditional community production of the York mystery plays, rejects the chance to follow assistant director John to London and continue their affair, not just because of obligations to his ailing mother but because his real life is there.

Gill the writer constructs monoliths of atmosphere, even in an opening scene of dialogue so banal and minimal that it could almost shame Harold Pinter. Gill the director, too, knows how to pace and pitch such material to maximum effect, although sometimes, bizarrely, he allows some lines to attract double-entendre laughs from an audience interpreting them as ironic references to gayness. Lloyd Owen gives a magnificently strong central performance as George, and is almost matched by Richard Coyle as John.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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