Something in the Air
Jermyn Street Theatre
Peter Gill’s new play is a gentle and moving study of memory and the loss of it, beautifully observed and almost painfully accurate. It is a picture of two elderly men in a care home. Colin (Ian Gelder) and Alex (Christopher Godwin) sit with their chairs pushed close together and unobtrusively hold hands.
At first, in long monologues, they appear to be sharing memories of their first meeting, each remembering it differently, and the young men who join them you guess are their younger selves. Actually that isn’t the case, but an element of confusion is appropriate in making the audience share the experience.
In fact, as the names in the cast list indicate so this isn’t a spoiler, the bond between these two pensioners is a new one and the youngsters, Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) and Nichola (James Schofield), are not the old men so many years ago. Indeed, they could be just another pair of gay young men falling in love and having a fractured relationship, though the way that lines are so interwoven suggest that they are the past loves of their lives, who are being remembered.
The old men have living visitors too, Colin’s niece Clare (Claire Price), who has Power of Attorney, and Alex’s son Andrew (Andrew Woodall), whom his father confuses with now dead son Robert. Andrew is shocked by the hand-holding. He can tell us about Alex’s professional life in the art world but knows nothing about the Alex whose sexual fantasies alternated between Russ Tamblyn and Brigitte Bardot. Clare is much more accepting, she encourages Andrew to support the old men’s request to share a room.
Simply staged by Gill and co-director Alice Hamilton, there are no artificial histrionics though Andrew does try to dislodged his dad’s hands free from Colin’s and Nicholas gets very agitated when his lover leaves him. This is a play full of genuine empathy and what could feel like tragedy has an upbeat ending with two old men finding love and perhaps something stirring between Clare and Andrew.
Colin and especially Alex may be developing dementia and, communication becoming confusing inside their heads, things seem lucid and Gill’s evocation of their past is precise in its details, whether the Soho coffee bar where the New Left used to gather or the succession of pubs by the river at Hammersmith, with the Thames overflowing at high water and, though the characters are fictional, you can’t help but put a name to the BBC producer who seemed gay but wasn’t and was married to a notable novelist.
Something in the Air presents us with lives rooted in a very real past and a touching picture of old age. Ian Gelder and Christopher Godwin are totally convincing as the old men and there is fine playing from the whole cast.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton