Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely with music by Ashley M A Walsh and lyrics by the authors and Jack Bennetts
Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely with Supurbia Manchester Pride
Hope Mill, Manchester
14 August 2018
Coming of age plays have certain features – a character going through trauma to learn life lessons - that make such shows a bit, well, worthy. Although authors Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely follow the formula to a certain extent you certainly couldn’t call this exuberant, colourful, at times harrowing play, dour or dull.
In 1988 teenager Henry (Sam Retford) is traumatised when caught by his homophobic mother Susan (Hayley Tamaddon) while wearing her clothes. Contemplating suicide Henry instead finds his closet has been transformed into a time machine that transports him into 2018 where he meets Ben (Lloyd Daniels) who is also Gay. Ben’s mother Penny (Sophie Ellicott) accepts her son’s sexuality but is unable to protect him from bullies who make his life a misery. The mysterious closet gives Henry and Ben a sense of their shared culture by transporting them back to the time of the Stonewall riots.
In addition to co-authoring the play and lyrics Lloyd Eyre-Morgan also directs and makes clear Closets is intended as a celebration of the progress made by society over the decades. While Henry and Ben both face personal challenges the changes they witness help to develop the strength to persevere. The party atmosphere is aided by the choreography of William Whelton who jumps from garish day-glo disco numbers to a sensitive piece performed to the backing of a ballad.
A rich sense of humour runs through Closets. Sophie Ellicott comes close to stealing the show with Protection an excruciatingly embarrassing song on safe sex made hilarious by her singing with absolute sincerity and no trace of irony.
Ashley M A Walsh’s synthesiser-driven score is very reminiscent of 1980’s hits which works fine in the scenes set in that period but less so when the duo travel in time. The 1960’s, where the Stonewall scenes are set, are so strongly linked to rock and folk music it seems a missed opportunity not to widen the range of the score. The lyricists follow the opera tradition and tell parts of the story through song rather than limiting themselves to verse/ chorus, although The Stonewall Riots, that closes Act One, is a blazing anthem.
Sam Retford made a strong impression in a small role in The Newspaper Boy and Closets confirms this was not a fluke. Henry is a charming protagonist; confused but hopeful and constantly pushing himself forward. Endearingly Retford maintains his northern accent while singing. Petite newcomer Georgia Conlan cannot be overlooked with her powerhouse vocals. Hayley Tamaddon manages to draw out the humanity in Susan; a character who, on the surface, is not easy to like.
Closets might benefit from further development to block some plot holes and resolve the issue of Ben being bullied that seems to be left hanging. The rules of time travel vary depending on the needs of the plot with the characters changing from visible to invisible or tangible to intangible and even travelling through time without requiring the time machine.
Although Closets deals with dark subjects the bright and cheerful mood ensures the audience are able to share in the sense of celebrating achievements as well as enjoying a fine show.
Reviewer: David Cunningham