Nowt so queer as gays up north – All I See Is You is an affecting period LGBT romance at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton
“If I never walk again, I don’t care”
The Octagon are certainly getting their money’s worth out of Ben Occhipinti. In the main house, he’s directing East is East and down the stairs in their studio theatre, he is also helming the premiere of Kathrine Smith’s All I See Is You. And where the former is looking at mixed race families in Salford in the 70s, this play turns its focus on to the experience of gay men in the 60s.
Those men are Ciarán Griffiths’ Bobby and Christian Edwards’ Ralph, whose meet-cute takes place in a toilet cubicle and soon turns into a smouldering mix of sexual compatibility and serious potential as they tumble hard for each other. But in a world where homosexuality has yet to be decriminalised, where societal prejudice is so deeply ingrained, it’s clear this is a love that will have to be fought for.
And Smith gives us ample reason to fully believe in this love story. The contrast in the pair – Bobby works in Woolworths and likes Dusty Springfield, Ralph’s training to be a teacher and prefers classical music – is neatly observed and their different reactions to the challenges of living life together, how ‘out’ to be, feel as pertinent now as they ever did – the politics of holding hands in public on a dark street in Bolton still relevant today.
There are moments when the writer allows her research to overwhelm the narrative just a little. The rich fabric of local detail is beautifully observed and thus a valuable piece of local LGBT history but dramatically, there’s just a little too much cycling through seemingly every bad thing that happened to gay men in this period happening to these two. It threatens to crowd out the delicacy of the romance here, the daring of hope that things might change, the commendable, beautiful performances from both Edwards and Griffiths.