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The Gap

Jim Cartwright

Hope Mill Theatre production

Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

February 9-March 16, 2024: 1 hr 40 mins

Denise Welch and Matthew Kelly as Corral and Walter in The Gap at Hope Mill Theatre. All pics: Pamela Raith
Denise Welch and Matthew Kelly as Corral and Walter in The Gap at Hope Mill Theatre. All pics: Pamela Raith

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The thing about the Sixties is, they say, that you can’t remember them if you were really there.

Jim Cartwright’s whimsical and sentimental view of them has a better excuse – he’s too young to remember, being but a child in 1969. (Me, I like to think I do remember them, but that probably just proves I wasn’t really there).

Jim’s The Gap, a simple two-hander, is getting its world premiere at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, which is a great distinction for the venue, and it’s got two amazing performers in Denise Welch and Matthew Kelly to bring it to birth.

They are Corral and Walter – she (to use his description) a slut, and he (to use her description) a scrounger, who as teenagers get out of the grey and joyless north to live their dream in Soho.

It begins as they rendezvous in the present day: now he’s "in sheltered” and she’s in an old folks’ home, but the whole of the first half of the relatively brief show is flashback, about their time in London.

After the interval we’re in the Seventies and they’ve split – she’s found a sugar-daddy and gone to Malta, he’s got by as best he can, and is soon looking after his aged mother, having gone back north. Time flies ever faster, as she finds pastures new in porn, then cleaning and sex chat lines (with an hilarious scene showing how the two may easily be done simultaneously), and then, amazingly, they join forces for one last time so she can entertain the sexual aspirations of one Vince McGinty (an elderly actor who remembers her of old), and… better not spoil it.

As director Anthony Banks confesses in his note, they can’t attempt to change costumes and make-up for every new time frame (a few subtle changes are often enough), and they don’t try too hard to disguise their later personalities – though there is one scene, early on, of their teenage selves, she in miniskirt and knee-high boots, he with teddy boy wig and cool-guy slouch – rather nicely done.

The title? It turns out it refers to a somewhat esoteric description of how revealing just one part of a female anatomy is the unfailing key to enthusing the male libido… and also simply the fact that these two souls have always been made for each other and need to be together.

We all love Jim Cartwright’s writing, and the references come thick and fast. For those whose memories go back far enough there are mentions ranging from Hylda Baker, the Krays and Carry On films to (for the thespians) a Laurence Olivier impression, a “Pinter pause” and Joan Littlewood, and he pulls effective levers with the music tracks – the Goons’ Ying Tong Song, Petula Clark’s Downtown, Manfred Mann’s Doo Wah Diddy, and so on (with Kylie’s I should be so lucky and sharing your Werther’s Originals bringing us rapidly through to the present day).

Banks’s set (with design consultants Andrzej Goulding and Susan Kulkarni) is a simple platform with two self-closing and opening doors in the centre to give front and rear spaces, and screens at the back to hide the bedroom sets and other props until they’re needed. The lighting, by Jamie Platt, is very effective.

More info and tickets here


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