Esther Coles in Nel's Place - Photo courtesy Norwich Theatre

What makes a hoarder hoard? This surreal and bold developing musical takes a tentative and affectionate peek inside the head of a compulsive collector, with surprisingly funny results.

Developed by theatre company Sheep Soup as part of The Lowry’s Rewrites project – which, as a partner theatre, is the reason for its tour stop at Norwich Theatre’s Stage Two – the show has been developed over several years with a hoarding support group.

The results is a show that doesn’t claim to offer answers or solutions but does sensitive poke around the topic, focusing on Nel (Esther Coles) – a grandmother and one-time band member who lives in an ever-decreasing slice of her house. The rest is taken up by her ever-increasing collection of things and memories, some of which have metamorphosized into her one-time band mates.

Thrown into the picture are Nel’s granddaughter Molly (Molly Vivian), and her less sympathetic daughter Anna (Emma Bispham) who come to visit and try to help Nel get a handle on her hoarding – or at the very least clear a safe path to the toilet.

The show is presented as a work-in-progress musical, with minimal staging and costumes – a sort of gig theatre with scripts still on show. That includes musicians doubling up as performers through a six-strong band that support the three main characters – although Ben Welch’s portrayal as the spirit of flattened cat Merlin is the largest of them all.

There a couple of fluffed lines but this is an accomplished performance for a developing show, with strong musicianship and good vocals, with an interesting mix of styles. There are some decent songs but perhaps too many reprises for the 90-minute run time.

It manages to tackle a difficult subject with sensitivity and a surreal humour, and provides a brief glimpse into what might be going on in a hoarder’s head without over-simplifying a complex situation. It does perhaps jump a little too quickly to a sort-of resolution: the revelations from Nel’s past and the weak links in her family connections need slightly more time (either literally or implied) to sink in and heal.

The show doesn’t need much more polish to truly shine, and in fact its current limited staging makes a virtue of a necessity: I’m not sure a bigger, more literal portray would help. Keeping the audience’s imagination doing the work is a strength, and something to be cherished not chucked in any future evolution.