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FringeReview UK 2022

Something in the Air

Jermyn Street Theatre

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, LGBTQ, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre


Low Down

Peter Gill’s first play since 2015 is directed by Peter Gill and Alice Hamilton, Set and Costume Designed by Neil Irish, Anett Black, Lighting Design Jamie Platt, Sound Designer Harry Blake, Assistant Director Sam Woof.

Production Manager Lucy Mewis-McKerrow, Deputy Stage Manager Heather Smith, Rehearsal Room Stage Manager Ricky McFadden, ASM Lily Brown, Production Technician Tom McCreadie, Production Carpenter Adam Smith, Scenic Artists Emily Carne and Mary Macken Allen, Intern Production Manager Isabelle Lamb.

Photographer Steve Gregson, Videographer Rory Chambers, PR David Burns.

Thanks to Stuart Thompson, Stephen Rashbrook, Henry Everett, Rachel Pickup, David Bearnes, Stanley Morgan, Riverside Studios, Edward Callow, Mel Kenyon. Special thanks to former Artistic Director Tom Littler

Till November 12th


Virtuosity and valediction. Not words you’d always yoke together. But Peter Gill’s Something in the Air premiered at Jermyn Street Theatre – directed by Gill and Alice Hamilton – suggests both, whilst hinting at new departures, new work.

Gill often deploys a medium-sized cast. Six – two reminiscing men in a home, two visitors, two conjured lovers still in their early twenties overlap, intercut, find symphonies of agreement with others to whom they’re not talking and don’t exist for them. In sixty-five minutes we traverse a dazzling regret, acceptance, even new bonds.

Gill’s profile not equalling contemporaries like Stoppard and Churchill is partly down to directorial work: founding two studios (Riverside and National), pioneering D H Lawrence in the 1960s for instance. Yet his own plays from the 1960s onwards refuse to shout: just insinuate themselves as classic and durable.

Gill’s disconcertingly both experimental and realist: intercutting monologues with several stark dialogues at once, as in Cardiff East (1997). Yet in his magnificent The York Realist (2002, perhaps his masterpiece) and Versailles (2014) realism and naturalistic sets backlight 1962 and 1914-19 respectively. Nevertheless Versailles plays with chronologies and the mind.

There’s hints of all this work here, but at compressed, cubist angles. Colin (Ian Gelder) is talking in a red reclining chair to identically-seated Alex (Christopher Godwin). They never rise.

Both address past selves and people. Monologues effortlessly recall everything from sex to death and back via student CND, left politics and a formidable ambulance-driving Quaker, Muriel, whose life flickers in and out. There’s detail about Dean Street and the 1950s-60s student scene. As well as a later SDP joke. London flows through this play and its bridges are human. There’s poignant affirmation, but joy, an ache of triumph too.

Designers Neil Irish and Anett Black dress characters undistractingly; round those cadmium chairs everything’s a plaster-grey, lit steadily by Jamie Platt with Harry Blake’s vestigial sound. We concentrate on the geometry of age.

Colin and Alex hardly talk to each other though, although Andrew (Andrew Woodall) visiting his (to him) aphasic father Alex, is disconcerted they want to hold hands. Niece of Colin, Clare (Claire Price) is less fazed. Clare’s the one who initiates rare conversation between the more lucid Colin and Andrew, via a postcard. Woodall’s initially unsympathetic character unbends with narrative, freighted with devastations, as Price warms as conciliator, counsellor, executant, drawing Andrew out.

Indeed theirs is the synchronous relationship, intercutting monologues and conversations spanning sixty years. Though Andrew’s slowly forthcoming of himself, his brother, Alex from a shrouded family perspective, he notes Clare offers nothing of her own – but the chance of meeting again.

By contrast the other two actors act liminally and one feels them underused: their vitality lends their characters distinctness. Alex’s earnest lover Nicholas (James Schofield) sashays towards Alex with come-ons. Alex’s reminiscent frankness is as it were up to it. His ‘Yes, yes’ to Nicholas almost answers his son as five voices whirl an antiphony of clarity and incomprehension mimicking the fracturing of dementia; whilst highlighting each exchange’s lucidity like a neon filament. At one point Alex declares: “My memory is getting worse by the day” and it could be to Nicholas and Andrew as well as to himself.

Godwin’s performance is of a man lucky enough to attend a school for ex-colonials mimicking the poshness to handle “upper-middle-class Bohemia” and Godwin’s acquired patrician cut you feel attracts and repels: he’s armoured, promiscuous, even cruel.

Gelder by contrast is self-deprecating, playing low status though he’s anything but. Gelder’s Colin is as much chuckle as sigh, yet he patiently draws out something else. His reticence – modesty, in fact – is contradicted by Clare’s filling-in. Each visitor’s essential in reinforcing and contradicting narratives even if they don’t interact much with their relatives: which might have made a longer, though vertiginously complex play.

Colin’s relationship with academic Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) is gentler, but Colin proves the more uninhibited, where Thorpe-Spinks winningly tries to cover himself whilst swimming when a speedboat swamps past them. There’s a wince as Thorpe-Spinks recalls Gareth’s failed moustache: “And anyway you were always right.” Colin’s self-deprecating whilst Clare reveals his achievements, whilst Gill gives both young lovers subsequent academic careers in the States with different outcomes.

There’s a difference between the warmly responsive, if shy Gareth as realised by Thorpe-Spinks; and Schofield’s arch, sassy, sometimes outraged Nicholas: someone who understands sexual politics more ruthlessly. Touchingly meeting later, Gareth declares to Colin: “I still fancy you, for what it’s worth.” The later, if synchronous Colin ripostes gently: “You shouldn’t, you know.” Nicholas explodes latterly where Schofield registers Alex’s revelation. The language is different, expletives fly, there’s a searing wrong played out as other lives bewilder to silence.

Though it makes an immediate impact, this isn’t a play that reveals its secrets at once: it’s certainly worth reading. Intergenerational conflict played out perhaps as one lover ages into a kind of acceptance whilst the lover doesn’t, is just another strand, though exchanges remain fresh. Certainly Alex and Colin comment on past selves too; the effect on Clare and Andrew is profound. Only Gareth and Nicholas remain separate from each other, hungry and unappeased. Though you want more of them, this is an outstanding development in Gill’s oeuvre, of permanent worth.