All I See Is You @ Hope Mill Theatre
A passionate kiss, a well-lubricated romp and then they learn each other’s names! All I See Is You plunges into action, with two men on stage who can’t keep their hands off each other. It all seems playful enough to begin with, but this love story becomes an intimate insight into the heart-breaking history of forbidden romance.
All I See Is You follows Bobby and Ralph as they navigate the illegal underbelly of Canal Street in the 1960s. Rough and ready Bobby is self-assured and knows, deep down, that he shouldn’t have to hide. Meanwhile, Ralph actively denies his sexual orientation and desperately clutches for a “cure”. At its core, this production grapples with injustice, adjustment and, ultimately, acceptance.
Katherine Smith’s script is eloquent and honest, brought to life by two very believable characters. Ciarán Griffiths, as Bobby, is immediately captivating. Performing with boundless energy, he inspires cheeky giggling alongside rightful fury. As his conflicted counterpart, Christian Edwards plays the slightly less endearing character of Ralph. He is aptly uncomfortable in his costume and his skin, culminating in a measured, yet visceral round of “treatment”. The actors craft characters with such familiarity that they are able to handle a poignant message deftly, without ever brimming over to preaching.
Much of the show’s action takes place through monologue. It’s as if the characters are enshrouded in censorship, unable to speak their minds unless to an understanding, modern audience. The choppy pace of these ‘direct to audience’ exchanges crisply intersects the troubles faced in a pair of parallel lives.
However, what is partially lost through passionate soliloquising is a deep sense of intimacy between the couple. There is little room in this hour-long production to engage in natural interaction or to watch their relationship flourish. On a totally bare stage, Griffiths and Edwards are forced either to stand awkwardly side-by-side or to fumble around on the floor. As such, their body language switches from aloof to ‘horny teenager’ at record speed.
The bravery of this production, to raise the curtain to an utterly blank stage, reflects the courage and indignation of the story it tells. Directors, Ben Occhipinti and Mark Powell also place total faith in the two-man cast to deliver an enthralling performance, stripped of any supportive distractions. A couple of slightly uncomfortable scene changes are a very small price to pay for a soul-bearing story of queer life in the shadows.
All I See Is You is a National Octagon prizewinner, inspired by real accounts of queer life from 50 years ago. It plays at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester for a limited run until Saturday 1st June. Find out more and book tickets on the Hope Mill website.
Images of the Octagon Theatre 2018 Production, courtesy of Ray Jefferson.