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The Gap

The Gap

A new play by award-winning Jim Cartwright (Little Voice, Road), starring Matthew Kelly and Denise Welch.

The audacious adventures of Walter and Corral,
He’s back up north, she’s still down south.
They haven’t seen each other for fifty years, not since their Soho days, back in the swinging ’60s. 
A chance phone call reunites them for one magical night and in next to no time, they’re back to their old tricks.

Matthew, following his successful West-End run of Noises Off, and Denise, making her return to the stage after many years come together as Walter and Corral for this for this strictly limited, intimate run.

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Our review on The Gap

The Gap - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Wednesday 14th February 2024 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating

There are some moments in life that you simply don’t allow to pass you by, and for me, having the opportunity to go and watch a new play by the multi award winning Jim Cartwright is one of them.  And by ‘ecky thump, he’s only gone and done it again for The Gap is a beautiful slice of real life, all wrapped up in a tapestry of Northern humour.   The dialogue plays with dialect in an almost poetic manner, elegantly switching formats between monologues & duologues, often intertwining two separate singular conversations effortlessly into one.  It is intelligent, illuminating, and immaculate.  And it celebrates life.  Real, hapless, risky, chaotic, rousing, unfiltered, and unpredictable life.  It also celebrates friendship, the kind of friendship that means despite a lot of water under the bridge, one simple phone call after 50 years will have you returning to that friendship and picking up exactly where you left off.  The Gap has a very real and vulnerable heart beating in its soul, and I am honoured to have witnessed it, so watch out world because Corral and Walter are a force to be reckoned with!

The Gap starts in the recent past of Corral and Walter.  They both talk to us, the audience independently, yet clearly two sides of the same coin.  But the role we are playing as the audience, what they are talking about, and why, is only teased at, leaving us deliciously hooked in on the one thing that is made clear.  The deep rooted, immeasurable friendship of Walter and Corral.  So, we are whisked back over 50 years to the beginning of the rest of their lives, landing firmly in the 60s.  Dusty Springfield floods the senses, iconic black and white images of 1960’s celebrities flicker into focus before our eyes, and Walter and Corral reappear from behind a screen on a slightly raised platform donning the decades latest fashions.  Immediately we are immersed in their world, one where Corral dreams of being in magazines, and Walter dreams of being right there for the ride and to support her.  They bounce off each other’s energy as delightful colloquialisms deliciously drip off their tongues and capture the raw and pure beauty of our Northern native tongue.

There is a playful rhythm to Jim Cartwright’s work that director Anthony Banks has expertly encapsulated, and it propels these characters into a realm that we not only fully understand, but respect and appreciate.  As Corral convinces an unsure Walter that they must be where life is happening, they hop onboard a train to London, taking plenty of Northern soul with them.  But daydreams rarely become reality and the wistful pair discover that the only solid thing in their lives is a good old steaming mug of ‘typhoo up you’ tea!  Young Walter works dead end job after dead end job with a fierce pride and determination to support Carrol who has an entirely different outlook on life.  One knows and respects honest hard work, the other expects to simply reap the benefits of it.

But with a beauty like Carrol's, it isn’t long before Soho sits up and pays attention to the new girl in town, and she discovers that this is her currency.  A free drink here and there leads to a free meal, free clothes and free access to a better life.  Except nothing in life is ever really free is it?  Carrols admirers want something in return.  And as she falls on her feet with a wealthy and harmless gentleman, his proposition seems too good to be true.  With meticulous and steadfast Walter by her side, they enter a new phase of their lives and Carrol is finally able to live the lifestyle she always dreamed she was worthy of.  But one day, the unexpected happens.  Love.  It whisks up a frenzy, leaving our inseparable duo splintered apart and desperately trying to piece one fragmented jigsaw into two pictures.  But they have and always will be each other’s missing jigsaw piece, and as a chance phone call finally pulls them back together again after 50 years apart, their picture can finally be completed.

We are taken on a whirlwind ride throughout the decades with Walter and Corral, diving into their stories, and meeting a multitude of characters, in every sense of the word, along the way.  Matthew Kelly and Denise Welch are sublime.  They give the best kind of an untouchable performance because they wholeheartedly make you care about their characters.  They gently take you by the hand, softly coaxing you into their world and then quick as a flash, they yank you right in, fully immersing you, but never letting go.  You don’t just witness them, you feel them.  Their performances are open and honest, allowing you to soak up every nuance they offer.  A multitude of characters are played by both actors, switched up by a skilled change of accent, a facial expression, body posture or costume.  The flips are effortless in appearance, and mesmerising to behold.

And their impersonations of cult figures of the time are hilarious, respectful and fill you with a fuzzy warm feeling of joyous nostalgia. They bring icons such as The Beatles and The Carry On team alive through brilliantly timed jokes, accents, and even a mimicked laugh famed by the much loved and missed Barbara Windsor or Sid James. Make no mistake, this is a play with larger than life characters, life events and stories to tell, yet the whole thing is stunningly controlled, classy and centred.  They aren’t trying to play for comic effect, they are playing real life, real people, and that delicate detail is exactly what brings the humour alive.  Matthew Kelly and Denise Welch are exceptionally talented and skilled actors and capturing this is a Jim Cartwright play, in the stunningly intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre, with the ludicrously talented Anthony Banks directing with his sixth sense of all things theatre, The Gap is one of those nights at the theatre you will never forget.

Act two opens with both characters opening up their hearts to us through exquisite monologues.  They allow us to empathise and reflect on how hard life can be, without ever getting too saccharine, and to laugh at their predicaments without ever being cruel.  As the story brings us back to the recent past where we started out in the play, we continue on with Walter and Corral’s story until we are all in the same space and time, with an ending that will simply take your breath away.  The Gap will borrow your heart and return it to you full of love for Walter, for Corral, for friendship.  It will leave you pondering the gaps in your own life and how you can fill them, for The Gap is not simple enough to be defined as one thing.  It is about finding out for yourself.  For Walter and Carrol it is the gap between the North and South, the gap between the decades, the gap between when you last saw your best friend, the gap between illusion and reality, a generational gap, and the gap between your stockings and your knicker rim!  The gaps for Walter and Carrol are presented throughout their story, but I must stress, it is their story, not mine, so you must go and allow them to tell it to you.

As with any Jim Cartwright play, music plays a vital role.  Songs are expertly chosen to dictate the era, but more than that, they melodically and lyrically encapsulate mood, memory and melancholy.  From songs that will pump up your spirits and notch the fun factor up to another level, flooding you with endorphins, to songs that will gently pull on your heart strings and make it ache with emotion.  Add to this a sophisticated, sleek and simple set design that can whisk us from Manchester to Soho, Malta to a cake factory in the blink of an eye by a split level design with a narrowing dimension, sliding panels and hidden cubby holes.  Video projections not only create atmosphere with skylines, celebrities and various pictures of Walter and Corral throughout the ages, but they also brilliantly put us onboard a moving train, and a dangerous car ride.

Hope Mill Theatre have once again produced a masterpiece and have done so with integrity and impeccable taste.  There is something wonderfully special about any show you watch at Hope Mill and I think it lies in the heart and genuine vision of Directors William Whelton and Joseph Houston.  Whilst they clearly know exactly what they are doing and have the expertise to back it up, they are also in it for all the right reasons and have a fierce passion, dedication, and loyalty to supporting and creating theatre that is inclusive and welcoming for all.  And this authenticity is something no amount of money can buy.  You feel it the moment you step inside the building, and you are instantly welcomed and made a part of the Hope Mill Theatre Family.  With patron Denise Welch performing alongside the fabulous Matthew Kelly in the new Jim Cartwright, this is a winning formula and feels like all the stars have aligned to create a perfect and untouchable night at the theatre.     



Watch our "In Conversation with Denise Welch" video discussing the show.

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