Tuesday, 28 May 2019

REVIEW: All I See is You at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

We’ve all felt the irresistible pull of love. The sensation that the world could melt away, but if that one person was left behind with you all would be ok. However, what happens when that love is between two men in a world where the law forbids it. That world is our world, 50 years ago when being who you were warranted a prison sentence. 

Bobby spots Ralph and immediately falls in love, but after they’re caught having an intimate encounter by Ralph’s father, Ralph calls it off and they’re forced to live apart leading polar opposite existences. Bobby chooses to follow who he is and ends up dominating the secreted Manchester gay scene, whilst a closeted Ralph pursues his ambition of becoming a school teacher and courting a woman in order to deny his true identity from himself and others. However, when the two men finally see each other again they’re love is instantly reignited and they embark on a passionate affair. But in a world where their love is illegal, it’s only a matter of time before they’re reported, forced into interrogation rooms, maltreated, and talk of jail sentences and aversion therapy arises. 

The biggest takeaway from this production are the performances. With only two of them and a bare black box backdrop, CiarĂ¡n Griffiths and Christian Edwards have a huge task of painting the canvas of an intolerant 1965 Manchester. They conjure locations and situations out of thin air, transporting you into their own life threatening reality, with dexterity and natural ease. Griffiths really excels at carving a believable and organic journey from a terrified man into one who ultimately accepts who he is, but still has the ability to dance on the divide when the overwhelming pressure of the times attitudes test him. Edwards is one of those actors whose presence on stage always creates an almost tangible emotional connection. His beauty is in his simplicity, his honesty portraying Ralph is captivating, all he wants to do is achieve normality which is gut wrenching as you understand his sense of achieving normality is to change who he intrinsically is as a person - what society has told him to hate. 

The two steer this rollercoaster as it careens through monologue and duologue, but it is really in the duologues that the pair achieve their greatness, their emotional connection is flawless and that is helped by Kathrine Smith’s script, which also excels in these scenes. At times the writing of the monologues dances too finely on the line between educating and lecturing; but her contextualisation of the piece and her exploration of the soft playful moments to the hard shocking moments between the pair is truly breathtaking. 

Ben Occhipinti’s directs having dispensed with any set and any props, aiding
Griffiths and Edwards in creating a world so well crafted you don’t miss those usual seemingly essential elements. Initially the pace of the piece seems a little frenetic, but once it settles into itself Occhipinti carves a path for the pair to truly excel, and the piece flows more fluidly and you are able to better invest. 

Although there are elements of comedy in the interactions between the pair I feel this is what the piece truly falls short on, for me it really needed to capitalise on those moments to truly ensure a strong emotional journey, because by the end of the play when it hits it’s emotional peak it doesn’t resonate as much as you feel it should. 

Having said that, when Smith removes her fist from your gut she provides you with a nugget of a hope as the lights dim. Hope that one day they could sit in the theatre holding each other’s hands like I did tonight with my boyfriend and know that they were safe like I was. We still have a long way to go, but it’s thanks to people who fought like Bobby and Ralph that we get to do that, and for that I will be forever grateful, and because of that, this is why ‘All I see is you’ is essential viewing. For all. For everyone. So we can see how far we’ve come and how far we need to go to be able to securely love who we love. 

Review by Ben Hipkiss

Rating: ★★★★

Running: Till 1st June, Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

Ticket price: £13 
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