Review: All I See Is You @ Octagon Theatre, Bolton

All I See Is You tells a simple love story that takes place in a dystopian world where love can be forbidden. The absurdity of illegal love seems like fantasy today, but this tale recounts an ever-so-recent reality.

This new and original play, named after a song by sixties gay icon Dusty Springfield, was written on the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and was performed at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre which opened that very year.

The play describes the struggle of two homosexual men falling in love with each other in 1960s Bolton. Whilst Ralph and Bobby are fictional characters, the challenges faced by the couple are based on biographical accounts and news reports from the time.

The two characters, played by Christian Edwards and Ciaran Griffiths, are ordinary and uninteresting, but all the same, real and relatable, which makes the oppression they face harder to swallow.

MOVING: The historical authenticity gives the plot steam

A cautious and ashamed Ralph is seemingly well-versed in same-sex encounters when he meets an inexperienced but excitable Bobby who embraces his sexuality and wears it with more pride than his lover after joining the Canal Street community.

Beyond the insurmountable obstacles that stand between them because of the times they live in, the contrast between the two characters and their differing journeys of self-acceptance addresses the personal battles experienced by queer men and women until today.

As a two-hander with a number of side characters, much of this play is told rather than acted. The narrative would make for great reading, but leaves something lacking on stage. Having said that, the two actors deliver this powerful account of a dark chapter in British history as best as the script allows.

TRUE LIFE: The plot is based on biographical accounts from the time

As well as troving through The National Archives, writer Kathrine Smith visited the LGBT archives at the Bishopsgate Institute in London to give the story historical authenticity. And it was the fact that this made-up story was true for so many people that is most moving.

Homophobia is a social ill still pervading the world in 2018, but this play was historical and set in a time where the consequences of homosexuality were more physically, mentally and legally severe.

The ending of this harrowing tale was far from happily-ever-after, but at the same time, it had more hope and optimism than one might expect and this may have been misplaced.

Still, the production received a standing ovation from an audience whose initial laughter turned to tears as this timid love story develops into a tragedy.

*All I See Is You is showing at Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday, April 14. You can buy tickets HERE.

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