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Something In The Air at Jermyn Street Theatre

Colin (Ian Gelder) and Alex (Christopher Godwin) are sat side by side in the lounge of a residential care home. Mostly if not entirely for narrative purposes, they are undisturbed for the duration of the play by members of staff – they are not, it seems, in need of constant care and attention, and are lucid enough to recall past experiences of decades ago. Old Father Time has taken its toll, however: when Alex’s son Andrew (Andrew Woodall) pops in for a visit, Alex mistakes him for his other son, Robert. This is enough in itself to introduce the idea of the unreliable narrator: what else in Alex’s memory isn’t quite correct?

Sam Thorpe-Spinks in Something in the Air at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson
Sam Thorpe-Spinks in Something in the Air at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson.

Clare (Claire Price) is visiting her uncle, Colin – both she and Andrew have met before during visiting hours, and when he eventually persuades her to let him give her a lift to her work meeting, there’s the possibility that could lead to something else in terms of a friendship or even a relationship. This doesn’t stop Andrew from expressing concern over Colin and Alex (or is it Alex and Colin?) doing something as innocuous as holding hands: relatively speaking, as Clare points out, there are far more important things to worry about, even in the context of a care home where other residents have been known to self-harm.

There’s also Nicholas (James Schofield) and Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks), who I thought were underused in this one-act play. They are the former partners of the older men but are portrayed as the young men they were. The relationships ended for reasons that would be too much of a spoiler to reveal here. But the memories of Colin and Alex are delivered in the form of monologues, which are interspersed with dialogue with the younger men as well as conversation with their visitors. The whole thing is therefore rather more difficult to follow than is strictly necessary, which I suppose is indicative of the complexity of life.

It’s interesting that the programme and the playscript are one and the same for this production – and not just, as I understand it, on press night. I found myself skimming it over on the Tube home, even though I had just seen the whole thing performed – it was, frankly, the only way of establishing once and for all who was referring to whom. There are some detailed descriptions of a London that existed decades ago, and Colin and Alex’s past lives with gay lovers would appear to be something that their younger relatives will never know about.

Without being preachy, the play effectively asks whether the younger relatives might get to know what went on so long ago if only they engaged with them a little – or a lot – more. At one point the audience watches them read whilst the older men are voicing their inner thoughts out loud. This, of course, isn’t necessarily indicative of every family’s (lack of) interactions, but the show nonetheless raises an intriguing point about whether the older generations are as valued and respected as they could be, or if they are, as they seem to be here, considered an inconvenience, or something to be tolerated, with fleeting visits to a care home crowbarred in somehow into a busy schedule.

Whilst a complex and multi-layered narrative is delivered by a talented cast, it was also more than a little baffling. There weren’t any explosive moments, either, and while agreeable civility can be a refreshing thing to witness at a time when the real world seems bereft of it, it doesn’t necessarily make for great theatre.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Something in the Air tells of Alex and Colin. Their stories flow like mist down the Thames, roll under Hammersmith Bridge, and slip past the windows of forgotten Soho restaurants. As the old men’s youth comes to life, so do the young men they once loved.

Written by Peter Gill
Directed by Peter Gill and Alice Hamilton
Set and costume design by Anett Black and Neil Irish
Lighting design by Jamie Platt
Sound design by Harry Blake
13 October – 12 November 2022

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