CLOSER TO HEAVEN
book by Jonathan Harvey music by Pet Shop Boys.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 23 May 2015.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
www.uniontheatre.biz (run sold out).
Review: William Russell 28 April.
Heaven is out of sight in this dire revival which is closer to Hell.
Proof some people really will buy a pig in a poke – the run was sold out before reviews appeared – is this dreadful production of the Pet Shop Boys’ 2001 musical. It ran some five months in the West End before closing due to dwindling audiences.
Closer To Heaven united undeniable talents, musically and dramatically, but the result received a cool critical reception and this revival suggests the critics were right.
The songs are fine – it is not a juke-box musical of the Boys’ greatest hits, but a specially composed score. Jonathan Harvey’s book is terrible, however, and Gene David Kirk’s shambolic direction does it no favours.
Nobody keeps still, everyone emotes away regardless, and there is no focus. To be fair to the ensemble they deliver the physical jerks routines that pass for dancing with energy, but the endless gyrations and in-your-face pelvic thrusting get very wearing.
The boys – the action takes place in a gay night-club – seem to spend an awful lot of time in hot pants and no tops. The result, to paraphrase Frank Marcus about the film of his play The Killing of Sister George, is tit-elating. It is not, however, titillating, which it clearly is intended to be.
The plot tells how Straight Dave, a dancer who would be a pop star, gets a job in the club, falls for Shell, the gay boss’s daughter, and then ditches her for pretty Mile End Lee, the resident drug dealer.
Various exotics look on, notably Billie Tricks, an ageing diva and club hostess, and Bob, a ruthless boy-band manager who fancies Not-as-straight-as–all-that Dave, offering him a career as lead singer, which suggests he has a tin ear.
Jared Thompson, making his professional debut as Dave, seizes all the chances he gets and sings and dances with considerable verve, Connor Brabyn is touching and dangerous as hapless Mile End Lee and Katie Meller’s Billie, clearly hoping that nothing succeeds like excess, storms all over the place.
Ken Christiansen has some good moments as the awful Bob. This is an inexplicable revival, a leave-at-the-interval show if ever there was.
Billie Tricks: Katie Meller.
Straight Dave: Jared Thompson.
Shell: Amy Matthews.
Mile End Lee: Connor Brabyn.
Flynn: Ben Kavanagh.
Vic: Craig Berry.
Bob: Ken Christiansen.
Billie’s Babes: Ellie Mitchell, Tamsyn Blake, Grace Reynolds, Martin Harding, Ben Somerside, Jamie Firth, Alex Tranter.
Director: Gene David Kirk.
Designer: David Shields.
Lighting: Tim Deiling.
Sound: Neil McKeown.
Choreographer: Philip Joel.