Closets

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Written by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, Closets is an emotive and colourfully courageous journey of self-discovery, strength and celebration.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry (Sam Redford) is struggling to express freely who he is for fear of his bolshy Mum’s (Hayley Tamaddon) refusal to accept his sexuality. In a desperate bid to disappear and escape the daily battles Henry steps inside his closet, travelling forward in time to the very same bedroom 20 years later where he finds shy, tormented Ben (Lloyd Daniels). The year may be different but the difficulties are the same. So begins a coming-of-age journey of exploration as Hope Mill Theatre becomes the scene of the 1969 Stone Wall Riots, Ben’s school toilets and modern day Manchester as the boys travel through time experiencing life defining moments along the way.

Closets is a cleverly constructed, deeply emotive and heart-warmingly joyful piece of theatre. The story touches on many relatable themes such as bullying, suicide and first love as we are swept along on a rollercoaster on emotions. The lovingly crafted script focusses not only on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but examines changing attitudes across the years in an honest and relatable way.

Sam Retford is exceptional as Henry, hard to believe this is his musical debut; his performance is confident and assured, engaging the audience entirely. Complementing Retford perfectly is X-Factor’s Lloyd Daniels, as the quiet but tormented Ben whose heartfelt delivery of Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Jack Bennetts lyrics packs an emotional punch.

Hayley Tammerdon shines as Henry’s Mum Susan, confused and angry she gives an honest & engaging portrayal of a mother who is ultimately scared of losing her son. Adding many delightful slices of humour is the sensational Sophie Ellicott, she brings genuine wit and laugh out loud joy to the production, her delivery of Protection is a real highlight of the show.

Special mention must also go to powerhouse Kim Tatum, her soulful delivery and witty one-lines add further depth and poignancy to the story.

Ashley M A Walsh’s score creates the perfect soundtrack to this relevant and thought-provoking journey through both hostile and happy times. The 13 original songs ranging from up beat pop numbers to contemporary ballads evoke the sounds of the 80’s perfectly. While Joseph Thomas perfectly lights William Whelton’s punchy choreography.

Closets strikes the perfect balance, delivering both humour and powerful drama, highs are beautifully woven into emotion lows ensuring the story is told with sensitivity and real heart. There is little to criticise here, a quickening up of a couple of scene changes and some tightening tweaks here and there would very quickly take this already brilliant show to the next level, but none of this affects your enjoyment of this uplifting piece of theatre in which the message of love and loving freely is strong, powerful and perfectly judged.

Closets is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Thursday 23rd August, tickets available here.

The Visitor’s Book

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Sarah Nelson and Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director James Atherton. New Musical The Visitor’s Book is an uplifting exploration on the impact of loss, abandonment and ultimately the importance of family and forgiveness.

Mum (Sophie Ellicott) holidays annually with children Jack, Sophie and Betty at Cathy’s (Jo Gerard) Cumbrian cottage. A sanctuary away from the city with clean air, green fields and an endless supply of fresh brews in the pot, problems however travel too and tensions soon rise as grief and confusion take hold.

Eldest in the family Jack is desperate for answers, a chance discovery however leads him to search for something else entirely when a strangers message in the Visitor’s book captures his imagination, offering a much-needed focus for his grief.

The play spans several years with scenes and stories beautifully interwoven. Younger and older versions of the children seamlessly move in and out of scenes as lies are uncovered and truths are told. The static set, a cosy living room within the holiday cottage allows the cast to move freely from one scene to the next, often inhabiting the stage at the same time to great effect. Slick direction ensures the clear narratives develop at just the right pace to both engage and entertain.

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton’s excellent writing ensures each character is entirely believable, from the moody teenager to the ‘holding everything together’ Mum to the baby of the family who entertains and amuses with her adorably quirky ways. There are many laugh out loud moments, moments you’ll entirely relate too as well as moments you’ll be gulping away the lump in your throat.

In Hope Mill’s intimate space there is no room for error and this hugely talented cast demonstrate superbly just how powerful and incredibly entertaining honest and heartfelt theatre can be. Each and every cast member giving their all.

Sophie Ellicott delivers a strong performance as Mum, warm and loving she embodies the role perfectly. Young and older Jack, Tommy Douglas and Jabez Sykes are both exceptional as anger and frustration is channelled into hopeful determination. The score is excellent allowing for some beautiful harmonies wrapped up in incredibly well observed lyrics delivered note perfect by the cast. Madeleine Edmondson and Poppy O’Brien shine performing their hilarious duet, big voices and even bigger personalities.

The Visitor’s Book is ultimately a story of hope, forgiveness and the real importance of family. This hugely entertaining production has the ability to both touch you deeply and entertain you enormously. Full of heart, deeply moving, beautifully told and superbly delivered, a joyous success.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 11th May, tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT but follow @Visitor_Book and @OTWOldham for further information.