Octagon Theatre, Bolton
06 April 2018 to 14 April 2018
Bobby (Ciaran Griffiths) and Ralph (Christian Edwards) are chalk and cheese - the former works in Woolworths and lives in a Council house while the latter is a trainee teacher and an insatiable reader. But the two are drawn together by an irresistible passion, which is a problem as All I See Is You takes place in the 1960s when homosexuality was still illegal.
Kathrine Smith’s play is based on news reports and biographical accounts from the 1960s but the author avoids any dry recital of details and exposition. The corrosive effect of institutionalised repression is demonstrated thorough the reactions of the characters. Ralph tries to convince himself that it is in the best interests of his family and himself for him to suppress his sexual nature and pass as heterosexual, going so far as to start courting a girl. Bobby becomes ragingly promiscuous, shagging anything in trousers and, it is implied, is close to being a rent boy. Both of them are screamingly unhappy and living lives of absolute desperation.
Yet Bobby and Ralph are not simply articulations of the author’s opinions about the dark times when homosexuality was illegal but are rather finely drawn characters. Initially, Bobby is gauche and almost puppyish in exploring his emerging sexuality while also being wracked with Catholic guilt. Ralph cannot hide his pride at his professional achievements and at being the first in his family to attend university. There is a strong sense of time and place in the play. The ‘underground’ network of homosexual pubs and clubs is very well described and there is the horrible awareness that parents would be willing to condemn their own children and see them prosecuted or brutalised with ‘aversion’ therapy.
All I See Is You is the second of the winning entries from The National Octagon Prize which, this year, required the submission of duologues. Although both Christian Edwards and Ciaran Griffiths address remarks directly to the audience, the highly physical staging by Ben Occhipinti ensures that the play is dramatic and forceful rather than just a pair of talking heads. Occhipinti delivers a beautifully shaded production, gradually moving from an intoxicating love affair with surprising comedy to a nightmarish tale of persecution. Hanging over all of the scenes, however, is a confused sense of guilt and shame which is the exact opposite of modern culture in which ‘Gay’ and ‘Pride’ are inextricably linked and helps to make clear why that development is so vital.
Christian Edwards’s Ralph starts the play as the more confident of the lovers only to descend into confusion and guilt at trying to conform to the behaviour that is considered ‘normal’. Ciaran Griffiths channels Bobby’s passion and sense of injustice into a barely concealed rage. He paces the stage like a boxer looking for a fight – jaw thrust out and eyes glaring – a shattering portrayal of someone driven to live his life on the edge.
All I See Is You goes to show that the judges of The National Octagon Prize know how to pick a bloody good play.
Reviewer: David Cunningham