Something in the Air

Reviewer's Rating

Peter Gill offers us here a gentle, subtle memory play focused on two elderly gentlemen looking back on their lives in a mixture of wry regrets and passion recalled. Colin (Ian Gelder) and Alex (Christopher Godwin) are both residents in a care home. We see them sitting alongside one another in institutional wing-back chairs, quietly holding hands, a sign of the intimacy they have found in the midst of infirmity. They shift from attempts at conversation to dozing quietly; but we also get to hear their interior monologues as they remember past lovers and the locations in London where they met. They are later joined onstage and in conversation by the two lovers, Nicholas (James Schofield) and Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks). A final layer is provided by visiting relatives Clare (Claire Price), Colin’s niece, and Andrew (Andrew Woodall) Alex’s son.

The play offers a complex interplay of perspectives, sometimes a bit too much so, as it is not always easy to disentangle at first hearing who is speaking to or about whom. But once you can adjust to the shifts in time and place, what emerges is a detailed profile of two lives with their high and low points tellingly and evocatively described, not least for the way in which key moments of reticence or obfuscation ensure that they don’t end up with the people they most loved. Along the way, there are fine depictions of London locations in Hammersmith and Soho, and memorable and moving evocations of the texture of gay life in past decades when caution and self-censorship were still essential.

In the lead roles Gelder and Godwin neatly distinguish their personalities from each other while also revealing their complementarity. Gelder’s persona as Colin is as someone seeing London initially as an unconfident outsider but careful observer; then finding a niche for himself as a social worker with children and ultimately a shaper of policy. However, his reticence and self-denial mean he is perhaps over-impressed by the swashbuckling young academic who becomes the love of his life, and who perishes in the 1980s era of HIV/AIDS. There is a contrasting but parallel story told by Godwin, whose incarnation as the restless, sexually voracious art dealer Alex, fails to appreciate the merits of his quieter, less assertive lover whose merits he only appreciates fully in rueful reminiscence. It is one of the most satisfying aspects of this neatly turned play that that present-day connection between the two leads mirrors their younger passions and foibles and embodies an attempt to find in each other what they failed to hold onto in their younger lives.

The other players have less to do but they make the most of their opportunities – Schofield, full of quiet understated devotion; Thorpe-Spinks embodying puppyish youthful brio, which you somehow know will not extend into old age; Price, a study in empathy, matched by the troubled uneasy posturings of Woodall, which she eventually manages to soothe. There are intriguing suggestions towards the end that these two may themselves kindle a connection in the future beyond the boundaries of the play.

As usual at the Jermyn Street Theatre, the small space and resources stimulate a powerful creative response on the part of the production team. The staging is kept refreshingly simple, with just a few props to illustrate the dialogue, but directors Gill and Hamilton maintain plenty of movement and visual interest alongside sympathetic lighting and sound schemes from Jamie Platt and Harry Blake. There is a perfect fit between the size of the space and the intimately confiding and wistful mood of the play. All in all a very suitable piece for an autumn season – full of mellow reflection and minor-key backward glances.