Kirsty Richards reviews a one-man musical of self-discovery and liberation from Luke Hereford, Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There).
Luke Hereford’s one-man musical celebrates queerness, accepting who you are, and, most importantly, the icons in his life, which include Judy Garland, Kylie Minogue, Jake Shears and his nan. Hereford has created a hilarious yet deeply personal show recounting stories from when he first dived into his grandmother’s closet at age five to his first Gay Pride in Cardiff at age seventeen. Throughout all his varying recollections, the touchstone of comfort and undying support throughout his life has been his nan, and Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There) is a letter of love and gratitude to her.
The theatrical space has been transformed into a cabaret setting, with candle centrepieces filling the room, and a sign directing the audience to the bar, encouraging everyone to grab a drink and relax before the show begins. But this is all a rouse — Hereford mingles with the audience as we settle down, thanking everyone for accepting his invitation for his nan’s 90th birthday. It creates an immersive, ultra-personal atmosphere, and Hereford is very good at making an audience feel like they’ve known him a long time. Once up on the stage, Hereford’s command of it is impressive, using the cabaret set-up like a stand up comedian, interacting with individual audience members, working the room, making witty jokes and bouncing off reactions. Though there were a few forgotten lines on this night, Hereford didn’t let that phase him and in the end the improvising added to the overall charm of the piece.
A mention must be made to musical director David Harrington who makes a surprise appearance on stage at one point. He accompanies Hereford throughout the show and even plays a silent figure, a foil to Hereford, significantly adding to physical comedy. Both Harrington and Hereford re-work songs originally made famous by Hereford’s icons mentioned at the start of this review, and where fitting an added musical theatre flair creates excellent vehicles showcasing Hereford’s talented voice.
Hereford has written an energetic show full of ideas, and the crafty transitions from addressing the audience, to talking to off stage Phillipa Mannion (stage manager), and finally talking to his nan, keeps the episodic story moving at a healthy pace. The use of microphones and props is simple-yet effective, and the emotional climax seamlessly brings all of these elements together.
The whole team must also be commended. The company ensured that all the performances were as accessible as possible for their short run. Every show was captioned, and the run included two relaxed dementia friendly performances so everyone in the community could enjoy it if they managed to get a ticket. But do not fear if you have felt like you’ve missed out on Grandmother’s Closet Hereford announced that they will be taking the show to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, so keep your eyes peeled!
Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There) was on at the Weston Studio at the Wales Millennium Centre.
(Header image by Kirsten McTernan)