Review: All I See Is You, Bolton Octagon
Set in Bolton in 1967, All I See Is You is a stark reminder of how life was for young gay men before decriminalisation. Based on news reports and accounts from the time, the story depicts the harsh realities of being different in a world where homosexuality was treated like an illness, punishable by a prison sentence. In this new production we are reminded that the fear of detection and consequence were an overwhelming terror never far from the surface.
From the off it’s clear that this is a refreshingly frank portrayal of gay love which is both compelling and realistic. Ciaran Griffiths mesmerises as the spirited Bobby finding his way to self-realisation and acceptance. Bobby is brought to life with such intensity and charm that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from him as Griffiths’ colossal energy fills the stage. Against this tour de force, Christian Edwards more than holds his own giving a totally convincing performance as Ralph, the middle class student teacher struggling to keep his homosexuality a secret. His inner conflict between duty and inclination are played to perfection and you feel like shouting out some reassurance. Ralph’s fragility is constantly buoyed by Bobby’s feisty courage and the counter-play between them is artfully balanced throughout.
At times, their physicality is so fluid yet so taut that it looks like a balletic wrestling match. In contrast, their love and affection are portrayed more delicately and manages to be extremely moving in parts and hilarious in others. Excellent direction by Ben Occhipinti makes this a tight, slick performance with the simple set utilised skilfully with barely a heartbeat between scenes. Played in the smaller studio venue, this works in the show’s favour, enabling the audience to feel intimately involved with the unfolding story.
Picked out of hundreds of submissions to The National Octagon Prize, All I See Is You is just one of this year’s winners. As an award celebrating new and original writing it might seem a contradiction that this play is a “a roller-coaster love story inspired by queer life fifty years ago”. However, despite looking back at how far gay rights have come, it is an equally current theme given the recent dramatic rise of attacks on members of the LGBT community and serves to remind us of how far there is still to go.
Kathrine Smith’s brilliantly researched play is exactly the kind of writing British theatre needs – gritty, thought-provoking, honest and intelligent. At just over an hour long it was easy to spot where scenes could have been fleshed out to a two-hour production but that doesn’t detract from the gripping story.
Totally spellbinding from beginning to end, this production deserves a wider audience. The standing ovation at the end confirmed my sentiments exactly. This is an extraordinary play about a moment in time we must never forget.
All I See Is You is on at Bolton Octagon until April 14, 2018
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