The Gap

Hope Mill Theatre is no stranger to premiering new productions. In the last year alone, they have brought a multitude of outstanding work (including the critically acclaimed To Wong Foo and cult classic Lizzie the Musical) to its loyal patrons. 2024 is no different and, from acclaimed writer, Jim Cartwright, Hope Mill presents The Gap- a brand-new comedy about the audacious adventures of Walter (Matthew Kelly) and Corral (Denise Welch).

With expert direction from Anthony Banks, The Gap portrays the friendship of Walter and Corral from the swinging ‘60s to a chance reunion 50 years later.

At surface level, this could well be mistaken for a throwaway piece of nostalgia with star casting to sell a few tickets but it is so much more than that. What the play lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in character development which gives the audience the chance to be the passive third character within the drama. Most dramas tend to focus on romance, but The Gap shows the platonic relationship between two friends that everyone can relate to. The swift dialogue is a laugh-a-minute which makes the more poignant moments at the end of each act hit harder, leaving the audience visibly emotional, reeling from the themes of survival, love and loss.

The chemistry between the actors in this two-hander is a match made in heaven and well, frig my jaffa, Welch and Kelly are a riot!

Matthew Kelly (off the telly) is a powerhouse actor. With what starts out as a comedic role, it swiftly becomes a character of layers which are crafted carefully for him to sink his teeth into. Kelly shone particularly in his monologues, reminiscent of his anecdotes when presenting Stars in Their Eyes and thereby giving the audience what felt like a nostalgic hug, wrapped up in knowledge that we were in safe hands.

Denise Welch matched Kelly’s energy with ease and commanded her share of the audience’s attention. From exaggerated facial expressions to a plethora of dry one-liners, we were rooting for Corral from the off.

Set design was also by Banks and it was clear that every detail was meticulously considered from the materials used to depict the “slinkiness of Soho” to structural decisions allowing gaps to be used as portals from the past to the future. At times, the set somewhat hindered the fluidity of the production, and it was jarring to see a stagehand conspicuously switching props through the translucent gauze of the already clunky sliding set-pieces. Furthermore, the use of these doors during scene transitions, which although were effective during quick changes or character hopping, stilted the naturally chaotic narrative by fractionally over-staying their welcome. However, vintage video design (by Sam Diaz) fully utilised the performance space and, along with sound by Ben and Max Ringham, triggered life-reference with both original music and iconic songs of the past five decades.

Susan Kulkarni’s costume design was surely no easy task. Managing to not only encapsulate five decades of trends, but also to allow quick changes aplenty in the 85-minute piece was remarkable. From Corral’s baby doll dress to Walter’s knitted cardigans, the costumes were authentic, attentively fragmented and straightaway transported us to the era being reflected.

All in all, Cartwright’s latest piece will have you laughing out loud, reminiscing in the interval and will leave your heart full of the feels that so many productions lack.

This show was reviewed on the 14th February 2024 and runs at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 16th March 2024.  Tickets available here: The Gap – Hope Mill Theatre

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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