sun 14/04/2024

Something in the Air, Jermyn Street Theatre review - evocative London mood music | reviews, news & interviews

Something in the Air, Jermyn Street Theatre review - evocative London mood music

Something in the Air, Jermyn Street Theatre review - evocative London mood music

Peter Gill's new memory play is a wistful recreation of gay loves lost and found

Companions in age: Ian Gelder, left, and Christopher GodwinSteve Gregson

As its title suggests, Peter Gill’s Something in the Air is an elusive piece – it’s about catching at instinct, responding to intuition, bringing together overlapping hints of present and past lives. From these different stories, spun out of lived experience and imagination equally, the octogenarian playwright leaves the audience to craft a whole.

We first encounter the play’s two main characters in a straightforward setting: the institutional straight-backed chairs suggest that Colin (Christopher Godwin) and Alex (Ian Gelder) are in a care home, but the closeness between them – the intimacy of their intonation, the ease with which Colin adjusts to his companion’s ailing memory – feels anything but institutional.

Are they a long-established couple, fortunate to remain together in their waning years – and how will Gill fashion a story out of such a single subject and limited location? Something in the Air may run for little more than an hour, but its imaginative net is cast far wider, as the monologue form in which Colin and Alex recreate their experiences melds together with the perspectives of different visitors.

The first pair, anchored in the real world, are the dutiful visiting relatives, yet it becomes clear over time that the bonds we might have initially presumed are looser. Visiting Colin, Claire (Claire Price) has a warmth and receptivity that the more harried Andrew (Andrew Woodall) distinctly lacks towards Alex. The circumstances behind Andrew’s distance become clearer as the older man’s story unfolds, but his attitudes in the present day are indicative of a coldness of character, too.

The second set of visitors whom Gill ushers in feel far more spectral presences, played by James Schofield and Sam Thorpe-Spinks as “distant voices” who return from memory in the lines and half-lines that the playwright gives them. Are they younger versions of the central couple, or other characters reprising passionate first encounters and final sad sunderings?

How nebulous their presence in these shared pasts appears, how tenuous, in the Forsterian sense, the connections, and it feels dramatically rather insubstantial, too, not least because of the pronounced emphasis on the single-sided monologue. The issue of insubstantiality prompts another question – whether Something in the Air would achieve equal impact as a radio play (in the air, literally) as it does on stage. The shared intimacy that we witness in the immediate would be lost, of course, but the resonance of voices cut loose completely from dimensional reality would be as marked. Gill himself, together with Alice Hamilton, directs this Jermyn Street Theatre premiere, and the balance of seen and heard seems integral, but it’s the performances from Godwin and Gelder that make the show.

There’s a something of a paradox, though, that in parallel with that insubstantiality Gill articulates such a powerful sense of physical environment; he’s masterful in evoking the atmosphere of Thames-side Hammersmith (Gill's own longterm home), as well as Soho, the twin loci that dominate Colin and Alex’s memories. These are cityscapes richly peopled with observed characters too, especially the ladies from a slightly older generation who somehow oversaw (not least by renting out a spare room) these young men as their early lives came together.

With twin pedestals in the BBC and academia, this is territory limited in its social breadth (limited by Gill’s own standards, too), with a cast that could have come out of the novels of Iris Murdoch. Gill has an astute sense for the comedy of the material – and Alan Bennett, in his early years especially, would have taken it to parodic extremes – but that’s balanced here by a sense of something more mysterious: the fact that what the play’s title promises may be there to be grasped, after all.

How nebulous their presences in these shared pasts appear, how tenuous, in the Forsterian sense, the connections


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters