Didn’t we all wish at some point in our childhoods (and perhaps some of us even still do), that our wardrobe was in fact a time-travelling Tardis?
And if it was, wouldn’t it be great we could set a course to the Stonewall Inn on a certain night in 1969, stop off in the 1980s to pick up a hot boy for a brief but complicated romance, and set the whole damn thing to music?
That’s pretty much the premise for the hugely enjoyable Closets: The Musical. This show started life as an award-winning short film about two gay teenagers who can cross over into each other’s time streams through the closet in the bedroom that they each share, one in 1986 and one in 2016.
Being a gay teenager in either period isn’t easy, but the temporal overlaps provide a saviour when suicide seems like the only solution.
The heart of this story is embedded in Closets: The Musical, but Lloyd-Eyre Morgan and Neil Ely have opened it right up. This closet is now really more a fully-fledged Tardis, moving not only in time but also in space, as likely to land in New York in the 1960s as in the basement of a Manchester school in 2018.
The logic of the time-travel is never explained and isn’t entirely consistent, but that’s easily forgotten as it’s just a device to move the story along.
Henry, our teenager in the 1980s, is played brilliantly by Sam Retford, currently to be seen in Channel Four’s Ackley Bridge. If ever material met a man met a moment, it is here.
Retford shines on stage in a part that seems tailor made for him. He plays Henry with an intriguing mixture of defiance, sassiness and deep empathy. He has a great voice. And he can rock a pair of skimpy hot pants and high heels like he’s channelling Tim Curry’s Frank N. Furter.
Lloyd Daniels, who you might just about remember from 2009’s X-Factor, is Ben, the teenager in the present. Daniels has a strong voice, but his acting is more limited and he suffers a bit from the inevitable comparison to Retford.
Mums, literal and symbolic, abound. Hayley Tamaddon proves she’s and well and truly left Coronation Street behind her with a terrific performance as Henry’s homophobic mother.
Who knew she was such a great singer? Sophie Ellicott is hilarious as Ben’s mum, Penny, singing the brilliant Protection which extolls the virtues of safer sex to her mortified son.
The boys’ Stonewall moma, Florrie, is played by the wonderful Kim Tatum. Tatum has the kind of voice, command and presence that could fill the Albert Hall. When she barks, “Move bitch”, there is no one who is going to argue.
Ashley M. A. Walsh has provided a score that matches well to the moods and tones of the piece, perhaps a few nods to the distinct periods would have been a welcome addition.
Eyre-Morgan, Bennetts and Ely’s lyrics mostly deliver on the big emotions, but some of the rhymes are a little obvious and worn. The piece is shot through with delightful and sometimes unexpected moments of comedy and Eyre-Morgan’s direction has certainly made the most of every one.
Closets: The Musical is a welcome expansion on the short film it’s based on. It’s takes homophobia seriously but never makes it characters victims, or weighs down the piece with too much worthy politics. It loses the plot a little in the second half, but manages to pull things back together with a rousing company finale that glosses over some of those loose ends.
There are some stand-out performances, some strong tunes and a great deal of heart in this impressive new show.
Runs until Saturday 23rd August 2018.
Words: Stephen M Horby