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Cottaging leads to a passionate love affair in ‘All I See Is You’ – review

Former 'Shameless' star Ciaran Griffiths leads the period gay drama at Octagon Theatre, Bolton.

By Will Stroude

Attitude cover boy Ciaran Griffiths is grappling with a man again. This time it’s his co-lead Christian Edwards in historical stage romance All I See Is You. The play opens in the 1960s with an energetic cottaging (pre-Grinder sex hook-ups in public toilets) scene where the boys first meet. 

Cottaging is/was famously a mostly silent occupation (a point DV8 long ago played with in their show MSM). But here, the boys are loudly vocal to the point of being garrulous. And whilst this drives the drama forward economically, it is crucially off kilter, as improbable as having sex loudly in your bedroom whilst your father, who you’re hiding your sexuality from, is downstairs. These are just two examples that suggest a writer who is not writing from lived experience, who is walking somewhat awkwardly in alien shoes.

Ciaran Griffiths is a powerhouse performer.  He bursts into every scene and grabs the audience by the throat. He plays Bobby, a Catholic, working-class shopworker who’s fallen hopelessly in love with his cottage conquest Ralph, played by Christian Edwards.

Ralph is thoughtful, lower middle-class, training to be a teacher with his nose rarely out of a book. Edwards gives Ralph a studious grace that still has a gutsy core and plenty of passion. They both punch out their performances and keep the play cracking along. There isn’t exactly a lightning bolt when they look at each other, but Griffiths pounces into the sex scenes with a clumsiness that perfectly embodies Bobby’s love-making, which is described as being more enthusiastic than skilful.

The plot is something of a tick-box of every oppression this couple could face; club raids, brutal police interrogations, disgusted dads, sackings and ‘cures’ that look more like tortures. All of this did happen to different people at different points. Having it all happen to one couple over a few scenes tips the tone of the piece dangerously towards soapily operatic melodrama. It is rescued by some great moments of comedy and by the skilful direction of Occhipinti who orchestrates the material carefully. 

All I See Is You is something of a missed opportunity; a 50th anniversary play staged a year too late; a class conflicted romance that gets derailed into cataloguing oppression; a strong pair of characters whose relationship gets reduced to little more than twisting on a hook.But there is something in the power of the performances and the quality and pace of the direction that makes this an engaging hour of drama.

Rating: 3/5

All I See Is You is at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre until Saturday 14 April.

Words: Stephen M Hornby