With Madonna’s celebrating her 60th birthday, it’s apt that her hits blare out at you as you take your seat for a new musical featuring a character who is a 16-year-old fan of Her Madgesty.
Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely’s Closets is about two teenage lads from different time periods. Henry (a show stopping turn by Ackley Bridge star, Sam Retford) is an uber- confident young man growing up in 1988. He is unapologetically gay which creates conflict with his mum, Susan (the brilliant Hayley Tamaddon), who worries how he will be treated by others.
Ben (Lloyd Daniels) lives in the present day and on the surface seems to have it all, but he is being bullied at school for being gay and is keeping it to himself. His mother Penny (scene stealer Sophie Ellicott) adores him, but she is in the dark about her son’s mental state.
You might assume life has improved for gay people compared with the past. But, with social networks and mobiles, the bully has more opportunities to taunt and abuse. This is explored with real insight and intelligence in Closets.
If you’re wondering where the title comes from, Henry has a closet which he realises is also a portal. He enters it and ends up in Ben’s bedroom. The two lads compare their lives, their struggles and strife and, inevitably, they fall in love, indulging in a bit of time travelling along the way. Suspension of disbelief is required here, but the performers bring you with them into this tiara-filled Tardis.
This is an incredibly ambitious musical which has a great deal going for it.
Sam Retford is a star in waiting. You may recognise him from Ackley Bridge, but on stage he is able to show audiences the range of his talent. He has smooth and soft vocals which convey vulnerability, but also shows Henry’s inner strength and assured sense of who he is. He also rises to the challenge set by William Whelton’s strident choreography with ease.
Lloyd Daniels has the most beautiful vocal quality and tone to his voice, which reminds me of Niall Horan. And he really knows how to bring a song to life, injecting emotion into every note.
Hayley Tamaddon and Sophie Ellicott knock your socks off during the song A Mother’s Love, which is truly moving. I loved Kim Tatum’s Florrie, a new mom for these lads whom they meet on their travels, although the link to the Stonewall Riots was a bit tenuous.
There are flaws. The show feels a bit rushed narratively speaking, as it gallops from scene to scene in search of a moving conclusion. You might find yourself wanting more time with characters to fully understand their plights. Henry and his mum are in conflict very early on and you never really experience the calm before the storm.
When Henry visits his older self, they do not recognise each other. If you were given an old photo of yourself, complete with memories, and then met yourself with that image and hairstyle, would you do more than say “Hiya” and “you sound like my mum?”
Sometimes it feels like a series of scenes which need more glue and time to make them more coherent.
Henry invites his mum to a show that he is in, but sadly the scene is rushed. To really feel this mother’s pride, it would benefit from a full blown musical number, with some interaction with the audience, in the same way Kinky Boots and Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, are currently involving theatregoers.
On the plus side, it’s rich with humour and poignancy. There is something special here.
Some of the songs have a magical quality to them. Hold On has the most addictive hooks whilst That’s Me is sung twice by different characters to great effect.
Closets offers a showcase for some terrifically talented folk to shine and give it their all in the most intimate of spaces. With more character development and longer scenes, this new musical could find itself travelling beyond the closet to many venues across the country.
Closets is at Hope Mill Theatre until 23 August.