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The Gap | Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill Theatre is presenting the world premiere of renowned writer Jim Cartwright’s newest play The Gap. It’s quite the honour for Hope Mill Theatre to have stars of stage and screen Matthew Kelly and Denise Welch in the starring roles, and this shows the ambition of this unique theatre in Manchester.

Wanting to break free from their mundane lives in ‘The North’, Walter (Kelly) and Corral (Welch) set their sights on the bright lights of London. The play starts in the present day when a chance phone call reunites the friends after over 50 years and what ensues is a trip down memory lane, back to the swinging 60’s in London’s famous Soho. 

Cartwright’s clever and witty script needs well rounded actors to be able to deliver the sharp material and Kelly and Welch are the perfect match. Both actors deliver strong performances especially given the at times complex nature of the dialogue. Olivier Award winner Kelly’s interpretation of Walter is comedic, whilst also adding emotional depth of the character in the latter part of the play. Clearly a role in which Kelly revels, he seamlessly bounds between his main character and the portrayal of others in Corral’s journey. Equally, Welch shines as Corral, delivering many deadpanned one liners which leave the audience in a frenzy. Whilst the plot is thin on the ground, both do an excellent job with the material they are given, whilst the chemistry between the pair is sublime. It’s a welcome return to the stage for the experienced fan favourite personality.

Stage design (Anthony Banks) and set consultancy (Andrzej Goulding) lends to the simplicity of the Hope Mill Theatre and adds to the much needed depth of the story, though the execution isn't always perfect. Two moveable projectable (sometimes unintentionally opaque) screens create a midpoint for staging. Depending on audience’s placement in the auditorium, stage hands could be seen bringing items on and off stage whilst scenes were being acted out, which really took us out of the illusion of the fast paced story.

Video projections (Sam Diaz) both helped and hindered the piece from the wondrous grey and sepia tones of the ‘dull’ Northern life back in the day, to the literal and unnecessary cut outs of the 60’s stars in which the characters were alluding to. Projections sometimes over stayed their welcome during set changes, however, music by artists such as Kylie Minogue gave each era an identity, if albeit briefly. 

Whilst the drawn out 40 minute first act focused on the pair’s stereotypical time together in the sixties, the 45 minute second act seemed to seemed to skip over the remaining decades of their lives until their reconciliation. The comedy comes thick and fast at this point in an attempt to flesh out the remaining story, until the expected poignant turning point which was inevitable. As one of the younger members of this particular audience, the show failed to resonate with me and left me questioning what the play is trying to achieve or why it matters.

However this isn’t to say a younger audience member wouldn’t enjoy this piece of theatre, as there are many aspects which are entertaining, none more so than the acting excellence of our leads. With many references throughout lending to times of yesteryear (such as Carry On films and The Kray Twins), the piece is perhaps targeting an older audience which may relate to the material in a greater way.

The piece is a nostalgic laughter filled evening for some whilst others may be left pondering The Gap in their understanding of the piece. The Gap runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 16th March, for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Pamela Raith


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