This beautiful, small-scale musical is given a perfectly judged staging by Headgate Theatre Productions.

A Man Of No Importance is set in Dublin at the start of the 1960s. Bus conductor Alfie Byrne is enthused by the spirit of Oscar Wilde and his love of theatre. He recites poetry to his passengers, and he is beloved by his amateur dramatic group members. The community looks upon him as a loveable eccentric; his sister, whom he lives with, is desperate to attend his wedding and remove some of the shame of her spinsterhood.

But Alfie is in love with his bus driver, Robbie Fay, a love that dares never speak its name, but inspired by Wilde, Alfie chooses to produce Salome, a “dirty” play, bringing down the wrath of the church, and they close the show.

Alfie mistakenly walks the town in flamboyant gear and is beaten up by a bit of trade, exposing his true nature. It’s a subject that needs to be handled with care, and director Wade Ablitt and Musical Director Oliver Wood do a perfect job of bringing out every nuance in a terrific ensemble.

The musical frames the story by having the amateur theatre company performing Alfie’s story for him. As Alfie, Gareth Gwyn Jones is outstanding, playing with warmth and a passion for theatre, singing beautifully, and moments of heartbreak and realisation on his face brings waves of empathy from the audience. Connor Pratchett is equally excellent as Robbie, who can only be the focus of unrequited, forbidden love.

Martha Mugford is luminous and brittle as love-struck Adele, who will have to leave the city when she becomes pregnant. Caroline Fritz captures the bitterness of Lily, Alfie’s sister, but also conveys her vulnerability as a woman entrapped by church and morals.

Grant Boroff is convincedly sly as Carney, and, from the strong set of characters in the ensemble, John Davies is scene-stealing with his solo The Cuddles Mary Gave, Buddy’s song to his dead wife in Act Two, underlining the theme that it’s important to love who you love.

They all work together brilliantly, and the musical is funny and poignant in equal measure, the cast handling the change of moods perfectly.

Every scene is created simply, using chairs, projected titles, and flats on wheels, and the pace is spot on. Although some chairs needed to be placed further upstage (as a full house can obscure performers for those audience members at the back), it’s a slick show. It celebrates theatre as a holy place and really underlines the damage that religion as a form of control can do.

Overall, it’s a piece that celebrates and thrums with love, and the bar for this year has already been set incredibly high.

The show runs until Saturday 30th March at Headgate Theatre Colchester. Tickets are available.