Luke Hereford, star of our musical adventure Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There…), tells us about the first place where he felt able to be his true self – his Nan’s house.
Space is really important. Space to feel safe, space to grow as a person, space that we can call our own. Space to learn to be who we truly are.
As a queer person, the concept of safe spaces often feels like it only exists within nightlife, or when we are surrounded by other queer people.
When I started writing Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There…) the world was in lockdown and queer people no longer had access to those spaces that have come to be such an important part of our everyday lives. So, we had to try to make our own homes queer spaces.
As queer people across the world began reinventing the concept of safe space, I quickly came to realise that this was all to familiar to me and that as a ‘baby queer’ I first discovered the concept of a queer safe space in the sacred, artex walls of my grandmother’s house - Waun Fawr.
Grandmother’s Closet (and What I Found There…) is a play about escapism and how crucial a tool it is for queer people, so of course it exists mostly in the space where I discovered how powerful escapism can be.
It is also, like so many queer safe spaces, a place that is evocative of personal memories. Instead of the smell of alcopops and sticky floors, it’s the smell of mothballs in the deepest corners of Nan’s wardrobe. Instead of hazy memories of dancing my pants off to Madonna on the dancefloor, it’s the memory of recreating the Material Girl music video in Nan’s living room.
Waun Fawr is also the place where I got to see Nan thrive. In the tiny Roman village of Caerwent, to describe her as eccentric is an understatement.
She ran a thriving laundrette business (Caerwent Washeteria) for more than four decades from a makeshift room in the back corner of the house.
She demanded an entire room be dubbed “the sewing room” for her favourite hobby of making clothes and costumes for her favourite dressing up-obsessed grandchild, and she stubbornly filled every wardrobe in every room in the house with her own garments - despite sharing the house with her husband, and three children for many years.
She truly lived life by her own rules, and was my first glimpse of someone who did this truly unapologetically.
My hometown is steeped in masculine culture, and she was an outlier as a woman who truly ruled the roost. Sure, Dad ran his business from the front driveway, and Grandad lived there as her loving husband until his death in 2007, but Waun Fawr was Nan’s house.
It was her who had final say on which floral carpet would be laid in each room. She demanded the artex in the kitchen be a fascinating shade of canary yellow. And she designed the infamous mahogany bar in the living room within an inch of its beautiful imposing existence.
She made the house a sanctuary for eccentricity and whenever I needed it, it was there to welcome me with loving arms into a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be, act however I wanted to act, and wear whatever I wanted to wear.
The cocoon of comfort that Nan and her house provided is something I have carried with me throughout the writing of this play, and this has permeated through our creative process.
Our team have spent redrafting days and design planning sessions at Waun Fawr, to soak up the atmosphere of my Nan's perfectly preserved 1970s issue of Ideal Home, and this has truly helped us to realise that the house is a main character in this play.
As much as we'd love to invite every audience member to do the same, we hope that we are able to transport our audiences to their own personal safe spaces, no matter where they may be, or how brash the decor.