Star of ITV’s The Bay, Ciarán Griffiths is reprising his role as gay man, Bobby on the Canal Street underground scene, in Katherine Smith’s award-winning play, All I See Is You.
The play, written as a response to the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, enjoyed a sell-out run last year at the Octagon Studio, Bolton, where it was joint winner of the 2017 Octagon National Prize. It is now on a UK tour that comes to Hope Mill Theatre in May.
We talk to Ciarán about creating a character whose illegal love was inspired by real accounts of queer life in 1960s Bolton and Manchester.
|What is, ‘All I See You’ about?
It’s a roller-coaster love story you rarely see told. It makes you laugh and cry and I want as many people to see it as possible.
This play celebrates the courage it took for gay people to overcome prejudice and be their true selves.
Tell us about your character, Bobby?
You can’t keep Bobby down, he loves his family and his job on Woolies (Woolworths) record counter. And after a thunderbolt meeting with Ralph -played beautifully by Christian Edwards – cannot suppress who he is any longer. He throws himself into the Canal Street scene risking blackmail and even arrest, YES ARREST! This play is set just before the law was changed in 1967.
What is it like to be the first actor to create a role?
It’s an absolute honour, however it’s a proper team effort. Katherine Smith the writer went above and beyond for us all and was on-hand at the majority of rehearsals so I can’t thank her enough. The extensive research and interviews she’d done with people who were around in Bolton at that time living Ralph and Bobby’s lives was a real eye-opener.
Ben Occipinti, the director, is hands-down the best I’ve ever worked with in theatre. His vision is second to none, he really gets your cogs turning and he has the patience of an absolute saint, so I can’t thank him enough. And Christian is such a talented, generous actor, I’m very lucky to be working alongside him. I’ve certainly landed on my feet with this gig.
How does it feel to know that these characters were inspired by real life accounts of queer life in Bolton and Manchester?
I think it’s very important to keep the history alive, I was shocked to discover the terrible things many had to go through to hide their sexuality. This play is both funny and heartbreaking but ultimately gives a message of hope. We had a Q&A night after one of our shows and many people from that time in the audience told us their accounts of that period. It really was a dark time in history that doesn’t get talked about too much.
It must be very different from filming TV show The Bay, what attracted you back to this role?
Of course, very different. We had a short run in Bolton but with the reactions and feedback we got I knew we had to get this story out to other audiences, I jumped at the chance. The buzz of doing theatre is ridiculous and no two audiences are ever the same.
What do you think is the relevance of these stories today?
It’s well written for one, it’s truthful, it’s honest and it’s ultimately a story about love and progression.
I think it’s important to show how far we’ve come but also not to forget.
There are countries in the world today where loving someone of the same sex is still illegal, even punishable by death. It couldn’t be more relevant.
There has been some criticism in Hollywood for giving LGBT roles to straight actors. What is your view on this?
I can see why some people would have a problem with it but I think every actor should have the opportunity to make any role their own.
Have you experienced any prejudice because of the roles you’ve played, such as Shameless’ gay gangster Mickey Maguire?
After Shameless now and again I’d get the odd idiot shouting homophobic things, I know there are small minded people out there but there are also a lot of good people and I like to focus on the good ones. Obviously, when stuff like that does happen it’s really sad, more so for people whom it might heavily impact effect. A bit like Ralph’s character. We just have to keep on educating people and spreading the love.
What do you hope people will take from the play?
I hope people have an entertaining night and come away touched by the story.
All I See Is You, written by Kathrine Smith and Directed by Ben Occhipinti runs at Hope Mill Theatre for Queer Street Productions from Monday 27 May to Saturday 1 June 2019 as part of its current UK tour. This play is only suitable for ages 16+. See Hope Mill Theatre website for details.