‘Pride against prejudice – the unapologetic queer joy of ‘Grandmother’s Closet’ 


Han Lake, Reporter

“Do you remember…?” 

This was the refrain that permeated ‘Grandmother’s Closet’: the one-person show performed by Luke Hereford (plus piano accompaniment) which my friend and I went to see at Contact Theatre on 16th February. Based on true events, it follows the show-runner recounting their experience of growing up queer in Wales, a reality that saw his isolation from family members (who had already shown dismay at his suitably animated imitations of Judy Garland in the living room, aged 5). 

Well, all family members but one: his beloved Nan. 

Considering Hereford’s decision to centre his show around his grandmother, it isn’t hard to gauge the overarching significance of their bond – sharing between them a reverence of classic musicals and, pivotally, a penchant for glamour. 

This much is evident also as the narrative of his development as a person is interspersed with direct appeals to her to try and recall such life-defining details, in spite of her dementia. 

It is this dynamic of Hereford’s identity crisis (in the absence of the one person who accepted and encouraged them to be their authentic self) and subsequent display of vulnerability, counterbalanced with splashes of camp and light-hearted humour, that sets ‘Grandmother’s Closet’ apart as a personal, poignant and powerful component of Contact theatre’s recent ‘Queer Contact’ run of performances. 

Described by Contact theatre as ‘a celebration of the UK’s most extraordinary LGBTQ+ talent’, Queer Contact is an annual run of shows which takes place in February – the designated LGBTQ+ History Month – and which demonstrates the stunning volume and quality of talent within the community, in Manchester and beyond. 

It is through initiatives like these that the power of the queer community can be highlighted. It is an undeniable and unfortunate truth that, especially in recent years, gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender and all other identities falling under the acronym have been the targets of increasingly disparaging rhetoric by the media and by our own government.  

‘Grandmother’s Closet’ is a shining example of what Contact defines as ‘extraordinary LGBTQ+ talent’: Luke Hereford performs marvellously throughout, incorporating acting, dancing, singing (all of which are done to an awe-inspiring standard) as well as a clearly refined taste in glitter-garnished garments, in this grand recollection of youthful self-exploration. 

Also immediately apparent was a comforting sense of warmth that permeated before and during the show, with Hereford laughing and interacting with audience members in the beginning.  

This atmosphere of warmth will have been emphasised by the communal feel of the gathering: a gaggle of gays, theys, and the odd heterosexual person, come to experience the joy of Hereford coming to terms with himself as a queer person. 

It is a universal fact that joy is never without an underlying struggle, however, which Hereford reflects poignantly through their usage of flashbacks from the past to the present day to depict the declining health – and memory – of their nan, their glamorous foil. He throws lovelorn questions that challenge his nan to remember their memories together into the aether, waiting in vain for an affirmative response. 

Tragic though this is, Hereford still manages to create a space for their audience to find solace in his brilliant depictions of that which his grandmother cannot recall.  

These include bombastic renditions of queer anthems from the likes of astonishing songstresses Garland and Streisand to pioneers Kate Bush, Tori Amos and the Scissor Sisters. 

The disclaimer given by Hereford at the show’s conclusion perhaps encapsulated most aptly the necessity for outlets that give a voice to the LGBTQIA+ community: in the wake of the death of Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old transgender girl from Warrington, there were QR codes outside allowing audience members to donate money to her family and loved ones. 

Regardless of the rising levels of vitriol being hurled towards the LGBTQIA+ community in recent years, it is displays of power, pride and unadulterated queerness through shows like ‘Grandmother’s Closet’ that help to combat this poisonous prejudice.