Tag Archives: Robert Hastie

“The York Realist” at the Donmar Warehouse

The clue is in the title. Peter Gill’s romantic drama shows us a Yorkshire farming family, in the early 1960s, with daring verisimilitude. The love affair between a visiting theatre director, working on a production of the Mystery Plays, and a local amateur actor in his cast, opens up a time and place with startling particularity. Every lyrical line rings true – many will raise a smile, other are heart breaking – with a tone that is bravely quiet. It is in understanding this understatement that director Robert Hastie shows his appreciation and secures a superb revival for the piece.

The two well-written lead roles result in wonderful performances. Jonathan Bailey is the arty thespian, out of place in the countryside, carefully controlling the character’s urbane sophistication to make sure he is vulnerable and hugely likeable. Ben Batt is local farmer, George. It’s hard not to see him as heroic, a fantasy figure, so Batt does well to reveal depth: an amount of arrogance, some selfishness, a little fear behind the confidence all make him as intriguing as he is believable. The erotic tension between the men is palpable – this is a sexy play, and it’s remarkable to note we only see the two men touch once.

Being so low-key places particular demands on a cast. It’s an achievement from the whole ensembles to embrace the nuances in Gill’s writing, and conveying that restraint isn’t the same thing as repression. Lesley Nicol gives a stand-out performance as George’s mother, only hinting at her ill health in a fashion that strikes a chord with anyone who has had older relatives who are sick. The relationship with her son is a second love story in the play, equally rich in detail and resonance. And Lucy Black and Katie West give strong performances as two other women in George’s life, his sister and potential fiancée, both fully realised and offering yet more insight into the time and community.

The York Realist is a nostalgic piece, and whether this is good or bad is a matter of taste. Inspired by Gill’s own time working in York, a look back at his youth and a bygone age is bound to have a rosy tint. And there’s the period detail in Peter McKintosh’s meticulous set. Seeing the production at the Donmar (it transfers to Sheffield) the north-south divide often alluded too gets a few too many middle-class laughs. But the play itself is refreshingly free of condescension towards working-class life. There is a sense of calm that shows the steely determination in the writing: only one reference to the police indicates the illegality of the men’s acts, and George is comfortable with his sexuality so any angst is minimalised. What happens to the romance is sad, no doubt, as it’s the distance in class that separates them. But there’s little trace of the victim about either man, making the play an empowering, memorable pleasure.

Until 24 March 2018

www.donmarwarehouse.com

The production then transfers to Sheffield Theatres until the 7 April

Photo by Craig Fleming

“My Night With Reg” at the Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play, My Night With Reg, opened this week. With strong direction from Robert Hastie and a superb cast, the production serves as a fitting tribute to the recently deceased author of this sensitive and sensationally funny play.

As a group of gay friends meet over the years, first in celebration then in the wake of the devastating AIDS crisis, their promiscuous lives are observed in a quietly profound and structured way. Questions of love, life and death come to the fore in a play about the passage of time and the importance of truth.

This should be a grim night out. Even the weather, in each of the three scenes, is the perpetually wet English summer. Yet Elyot’s triumph is to make My Night With Reg so funny. With a nod to classic farce and plenty of blue jokes, the laughs come thick and fast. Underneath the wickedly funny crudity, there’s great skill: switching between comedy and tears with the speed of a lightning flash.

Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel) and Lewis Reeves (Eric) in My Night With Reg. Photo by Johan Persson.
Geoffrey Streatfeild and Lewis Reeves

The characters are finely drawn and the acting lives up to Elyot’s writing. The plot pivots around the never seen Reg – the lover of so many – but our perspective comes from the floppy-haired, ever cautious Guy, made so endearing by Jonathan Broadbent that he becomes a real hero. Guy’s university friends are appropriately irresistible, played by Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild with both charisma and convincing depth. There are also talented turns by Matt Bardock and Richard Cant, while Lewis Reeves as Eric, the youngest character, gives another strong performance, bringing intergenerational insight to events.

As the play’s first major revival, the big question is, inevitably, how well it has aged. Despite being very much rooted in its times, addressing a specific community that has changed a great deal in the past 20 years, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how fresh My Night With Reg feels. Unrequited love is a universal theme, after all, and Elyot explores deep emotions in an appealingly uncensorious way. Best of all, the humour, while too blunt to describe as sparkling, still shines.

Until 27 September 2014

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Johan Persson

Written 6 August 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Hotel Plays” at the Grange Holborn Hotel

Tennessee Williams spent so much of his later life living in and writing about hotels that staging his plays in one seems so obvious, so very neat, that it’s instantly appealing. Site-specific theatre has to be special stuff to excite, and this thrilling trilogy of short works does just that at the Grange Holborn Hotel.

The Hotel PlaysGreen Eyes, The Travelling Companion and Sunburst – afford glimpses into tawdry, lonely lives: a young couple arguing on their honeymoon, an ageing homosexual writer with his unwilling escort, and an elderly lady held hostage in her room by staff turned ineffectual thieves. Being late works by Williams, they are peopled by extreme characters and bold to the point of being blunt.

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Clare Latham and Matt Milne

These are difficult roles to pull off (and unfortunately the accents prove too much of a challenge) but all the cast manage to establish their characters with commendable speed. John Guerrasio does particularly well as what is surely a merciless self-portrait by Williams – a “much too much” homosexual writer with a camp performance that has an eye on the stereotype the author must have seen himself becoming. His co-star, Laurence Dobiesz, also impresses as a fragile hustler who becomes intoxicated during the short duration of the play. But the best and bravest performances come in the first work, with Clare Latham and Matt Milne playing newlyweds acting out trauma with a sado-masochistic twist.

The Grange Holborn Hotel may not be the most charismatic property, but all credit to its farsighted management for cooperating with the Defibrillator Theatre Company. Staging the plays in the hotel adds immeasurably to them. Performed in rotation, you can hear the arguments from one as you sit in the room above watching another, with careful supervision from a trio of directors (James Hillier, Anthony Banks and Robert Hastie) who embrace the claustrophobia of the setting. This evening of morbidly powerful vignettes is captivating theatre – incredibly intimate and excruciatingly voyeuristic.

Until 27 October 2012

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 9 October 2012 for The London Magazine