9 April 2018.
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.
All I See Is You won the Octagon’s National Prize for new and original writing for the stage.
Following its successful premiere in Bolton, and an award-winning run at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, All I See Is You can be seen at Hope Mill Theatre from 27 May to 1 June 2019.