EdFringe 2022 Review: Grandmother’s Closet

Luke Hereford takes to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time, bringing their autobiographical cabaret Grandmother’s Closet to Summerhall. Exploring their own journey into queerness with the support of number one cheerleader, their Grandmother, Luke guides us with the outfits, songs and memories that propelled us on this journey.

Luke’s grandmother may not remember things like she used to, but Luke recollects the pivotal moments in which their Grandmother supported them as they began to find themself. From early performances in the living room at family events to the encouragement to attend their first Pride, Luke’s grandmother proved to be powerhouse force in supporting her grandson discover their true self. The performer reflects on these key moments with a touching sentimentality and natural vulnerability, yet manages to produce an electric atmosphere thanks to vivacious musical performances inspired by the divas that Luke’s youth.

Luke excitedly welcomes the audience in to the Cairns Lecture Theatre encouraging us to party as high octane disco from Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) blasts out – we get an immediate snapshot of the bustling energy and excitement that Luke will be bringing to the stage for the next hour as part of this one person show meets cabaret. There’s support from Bobby Harding who provides musical accompaniment to Luke’s numbers, whilst also chiming in for a number of well-pitched moments of comic sparring between the pair. Luke welcomes the game Summerhall audience to their grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party, giving us a snapshot of the revered matriarch of their family yet revealing she can’t quite summon up the energy to stay for more than an hour. After cross words with a family member who he dubs Uncle Ignorant, Luke takes to their grandmother’s former bedroom reminiscing about times gone by.

Upon being flooded with the wealth of memories inspired by their grandmother’s closet, Luke bursts into an energetic mash-up of Madonna’s Dress You Up and Material Girl, both tracks a fitting ode to the glamour and fashions that fill the production. Luke masterfully manages to delve into tones of high energy camp in these numbers, but impressively can steer the narrative territory into tender more emotional directions.

Luke’s bond with their grandmother over Judy Garland soon comes into focus leading to an old Hollywood inspired rendition of The Trolley Song capturing young Luke’s early bonding with their grandmother. Luke’s disconnect from the feelings of longing their father experiences over Kylie Minogue and Kate Bush are explored in a mash-up of Kylie’s Wow from her flawless X album and Bush’s classic 1978 number. Lashings of camp are provided by a flowing versatile white garment which conjures up both classic Kylie and vintage Kate Bush. Luke’s own sexual awakening is captured in a Scissor Sisters musical number with the performer capturing the raunchy, sexually-charged camp of Filthy Gorgeous. Grandmother’s Closet, again, is able to ground these powerhouse high energy numbers with a sincere emotional conviction shared in moments such as Luke’s grandmother giving them the confidence to venture out to their first Pride.

Much of the power of Grandmother’s Closet comes from Luke’s direct dialogue to their grandmother, who acts as their shield and armour in a world of cruelty and intolerance. She is a figure that gives them the strength to live their truth, yet Luke worries as her memories fade, will this strength fade. It’s a truly touching note that permeates through the buoyant camp and excitement, allowing us as an audience to reflect on those within our biological or chosen families that have given us a similar strength – if we have been lucky enough to have one. A stellar, poignant rendition of Tori Amos’s Crucify captures Luke’s challenging ‘outing’ by a family friend, whilst I Stayed Too Long at the Fair brings Grandmother’s Closet to a touching, affirming conclusion.

In Grandmother’s Closet Luke Hereford crafts a lavish high-camp cabaret atmosphere layered with a touching poignancy and emotional conviction. This is a gorgeous tribute to the allies and cheerleaders that support and guide us on our own personal journeys and the power they can instil in all of us.

Grandmother’s Closet runs as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until August 28th. Get your tickets here.

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