The world was outraged when Brunei announced that it would make homosexuality punishable by stoning to death. LGBTQ+ activists protested, pleading with leading global businesses to boycott dealings with Brunei companies. Thankfully, this led to the country deciding to reverse their decision.
The headlines exposed the shocking number of countries where homosexuality is still criminalised, prompting reflection on how it was also illegal in this country until fifty years ago. Despite laws changing to support gay rights, recent Stonewall research shows that one in five LGBTQ+ people have experienced hate crime in the UK.
Kathrine Smith‘s award winning play, All I See Is You, recalls the attitudes held towards gay men in the 1960s through a tender story of forbidden love. Smith’s play beautifully renders a relationship between Bobby (Ciarán Griffiths), who works on the record counter in Woolworths, and Ralph (Christian Edwards), who is training to be an English teacher. As their love is illegal, they risk being arrested, blackmailed and persecuted because of their sexuality. Suppressing their lust to conform to societal expectations, they struggle against ruthless oppression.
All I See Is You is a poignant and emotional play that also teaches its audience LGBTQ+ history. It provides a sober reminder that although LGBTQ+ rights have progressed in the UK, there are many countries that still treat homosexuality with disdain. The most shocking discovery for me is that the abhorrent ‘aversion therapy’, which uses electric shock treatment to ‘cure’ homosexuality, is still administered in the USA.
Smith’s play is a two-hander, with its narrative being told through monologues delivered by the two protagonists. The script is laced with exquisite detail, rendering a familiar portrait of Manchester complete with gay pubs like The Trafford, and the city’s famous streets, such as Deansgate and Canal Street. It also brilliantly conveys the Mancunian accent, which pervades through the play’s dialogue. Bobby being “common as muck” and describing how his relationship with Ralph makes him feel “proper alive”, the realism of the play’s language is refreshing, honestly depicting working-class northerners on stage.
With bare staging, Ciarán Griffiths and Christian Edwards provide magnificent performances, effectively carrying the play entirely on their own. Without any props or scenery, the audience’s attention is entirely focused on the couple. The intimacy of Hope Mill Theatre results in the actors having nowhere to hide. Edwards and Griffiths seem to thrive on this. The chemistry between the two is electric, and their romance remains entirely believable. Exuding lustful energy, their physical relationship is intense and passionate.
Both actors also perfectly capture the vulnerability of their characters, as they are haunted by guilt and subjected to cruel oppression. Although the play’s ending is abrupt, it is utterly heart-wrenching, with both actors leaving me in tears. However, if unaware of the play’s 70 minute run time, this ending feels more suitable as a signal to an interval. Sadly, with such an ambiguous ending, the play doesn’t reach a conclusion, and I was left wanting more.
Nonetheless, All I See Is You is a beautiful play, performed by two magnificent actors. As LGBTQ+ people still face the death penalty in some countries, this story of forbidden love is poignant and decidedly relevant.