All I See Is You

octagon-all-i-see-is-you-46-1.jpg

Octagon, Bolton.

9 April 2018.

Set in Bolton in 1967, there’s something reassuringly sweet about Kathrine Smith’s tale of two men falling in love for the first time. Yet, Bobby and Ralph’s romance follows a far from conventional trajectory – an anonymous fumble in a toilet cubicle, leading to a fiercely uninhibited fuck in Ralph’s bedroom and then suddenly an awkward realisation that they may have feelings for each other.

Opposites attract. Bobby works on Woolies’ record counter and enjoys the music of Dusty Springfield. Ralph, training to be a teacher, is often found with his head in a book, and is partial to concerts by the Hallé. They are ordinary people, likeable, and loveable – and that makes their experiences in a world where homosexuality is still criminalised especially painful to watch.

For anyone with a passing knowledge of LGBTQ history, it’s not a story that is going to reveal anything new in terms of the factual context of the period. What it does do – is give a powerful sense of how soul-destroying it must have been to live under almost constant fear of blackmail threats, police raids and rejection by friends and family. Trust is in short supply, Ralph and Bobby have to keep themselves in check, “tone it down” and pretend to be something other than they are. There’s hope that the law might change but it seems to be a long time coming.

Meticulously researched, Smith’s play giddily steers its characters from Bolton’s (now chained up) public toilets on Nelson Street to The Trafford bar (demolished many years ago) on Manchester’s Oxford Road and then finally to the more familiar delights of Canal Street. The play incorporates period detail to good effect. Ralph’s lonely nights out to the Free Trade Hall. Reluctant reader Bobby discovering the joy of reading in the pages of ‘Valley of the Dolls’. Smith’s script has some fun with its cultural references. In an attempt to hide who he is, Ralph begins a relationship with a woman. Their first date is a trip to the cinema to see ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, hardly the best advert for a heteronormative way of life.

There’s a nice rough and readiness in the way Ralph and Bobby’s love life is sketched out. They share a gloriously romantic kiss leaning against an old fire-place on a building site. On their first night of passion Ralph offers Bobby a choice of Vaseline, hair cream or a bit of spit – and as he enjoys some moments of ecstatic sex, Bobby exclaims “If I never walk again I don’t care”.

Music from the sixties punctuates events and Kay Buckley’s striking lighting and sound design help to transform the simple perforated metal set, with two seats and a long bench, into a variety of locations. Nightmarish scenes in a police station are especially effective, with interrogations taking place under harsh spotlights while a low ominous rumble is punctuated by a jarring sound, like crackling static on a record.

The script plays around with its duologue form, the two men interact with each other, become narrators or directly tell us their inner thoughts. The way they look seems to signal something of their characters. While Ralph is all buttoned up inside his tight waist coat, Bobby sports a jaunty red scarf with a flourish.

Director Ben Occhipinti allows the two actors plenty of space to breathe and their beautifully understated performances take the play to a higher place. Christian Edwards, seems to fold in on himself as Ralph struggles to accept his sexuality and is gradually crushed by the pressure to conform. In contrast Ciaran Griffiths’ Bobby grows in confidence, and he exudes a lust for the life he has discovered – even licking his lips as he plans a date with Ralph. Yet he also manages to convey a tender vulnerability beneath his character’s hard-earned defiance.

Like the Dusty Springfield song from which it takes its name, All I See Is You is moving and unashamedly romantic. It offers a glimmer of hope as the lights dim at the end. Yet, its strength also lies in its ability to powerfully evoke the not too distant past and leave us haunted by what gay men, like Ralph and Bobby, endured.

 

Bolton Octagon.

All I See Is You won the Octagon’s National Prize for new and original writing for the stage.

octagon-all-i-see-is-you-225.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s