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Review: The Gap at Home Mill Theatre ‘brings something unique and enthralling’

The Gap reunites two famous faces in Manchester after a 25 year hiatus.
The Gap

Two familiar faces have reunited at the Hope Mill Theatre for a new play, The Gap.

Matthew Kelly and Denise Welch first met in Manchester 25 years ago when she appeared on the hit TV show Stars in Their Eyes.

He was the host and she appeared on a celebrity version of the singing competition as Dusty Springfield. A friendship was born at Granada Studios, so it is apt that they return to Manchester to star in a new two-hander by Road and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice writer Jim Cartwright.

The challenge for an actor starring in a piece by this wonderful northern soul is the fact that he switches from marvellous monologues to poetry and the actors are often in motion, as they navigate both the beauty and bleakness that oozes through his love of language.

The Gap at Hope Mill Theatre

It helps that these two gifted actors know each other, as they pass the baton back and forth, as two characters Walter and Corral who look back at their past when they meet up for a reunion, following fifty years of silence.

As we join them on this nostalgic journey featuring love, loss, heartbreak and comedy, you start to appreciate why Denise Welch describes the experience of being in a Jim Cartwright play, akin to giving birth. She said in a recent interview: “You are so in love with the result you forget about what you go through to get there.”

The rhyme, the rhythm, the non-linear approach to storytelling, as we see fragmented memories giving us clues to the way they were, is not a walk in the park for these actors.

They have to bring their A-game and thankfully, they both deliver and some.

Breaking the fourth wall

Beneath the literary techniques of alliteration and Iambic pentameters (which are knowingly referred to as the actors break the fourth wall) lies a story of the exuberance and naivety of youth and what happens when life does not go the way that you imagined.

Matthew Kelly conveys so much through facial expressions and it draws you to his character, who constantly fetches and carries, two steps behind his friend and sometimes foe.

Denise Welch excels on the small scale theatre

Denise Welch needs to do more small scale theatre, as she also excels at the comedy and pathos of the piece.

Sam Diaz’s video design keeps things moving from the bright lights of Carnaby Street through to the icons that these two may or may not have encountered.

Jamie Platt’s luminous lighting captures the Bambi like energy of these two opposites and the long shadow of loneliness they encounter once they are done.

The story arcs feel a bit rushed in the first half, as we pack a great deal in over a short period of time and it leaves the actors with barely the time to pause.

The second half is far better and more fluid, and director Anthony Banks sees the value of silence and blank looks.

And it means that when the play changes gear, the emotional shifts do hit you in the stomach, and take you by surprise.

Nothing new, but unique and immersive

The tropes of going to London and ending up scraping a living and being tempted by the temptation of sex work is nothing new.

And I am not convinced that the play is telling anyone something they did not know before or have not seen before, in terms of content.

But when it comes to theatre, Jim Cartwright is an auteur and he brings something so unique in terms of the art of storytelling with The Gap, that you become immersed in this tale of filthy ashtrays, fur coats and Formica flooring.

The Gap is at the Hope Mill Theatre until 16th March and it can be booked here.

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