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Closets review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ’emotional time-travelling musical’

Sam Retford and Lloyd Daniels in Closets at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre
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Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely’s new musical Closets opens up an important discussion with great charm and sensitivity.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry’s relationship with his mother Susan has reached breaking point. She can’t accept his sexuality, and when she finds him trying on her clothes and make-up, the situation explodes. As Henry sneaks into his closet, he’s transported to the 2018 version of his own room, occupied by Ben.

Ben’s mother Penny is embarrassingly accepting, but he can’t tell her about the bullying he endures at school. Henry and Ben form an immediate bond and begin an adventure into the past, where they meet Florrie, a Stonewall Inn cabaret artist in 1969.

For those of us who grew up gay in less enlightened times, it’s easy to think that teenagers this century have a smooth ride. Closets shows that, while we’ve come a long way, very different modern pressures mean it’s still never an easy journey.

Ashley MA Walsh’s genre-bending score bridges the decades as fluidly as the time-travelling plot, capturing the mood of each period perfectly. Sam Retford and Lloyd Daniels give affecting performances as Henry and Ben, as do Hayley Tamaddon and Sophie Ellicott as Susan and Penny, and Kim Tatum as Florrie. All the vocals are consistently strong.

Lloyd Eyre-Morgan’s direction delicately balances comedy and drama, hitting the precise emotional temperature throughout. Closets is a tender story of friendship and motherhood, a history lesson that never lectures, and a wake-up call to us all.

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Emotional time-travelling story that delicately explores some uncomfortable territory