Closer to Heaven
I am a great fan of the pop group The Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe) and have enjoyed plays written by Jonathan Harvey, which includes “The Beautiful Thing”, so when I heard they were collaborating in a new musical I thought wow this is going to be something special. Now the show has finally arrived I can report that it is not ‘as special’ as I thought it would be, but nevertheless it is still a smashing good show with pulsating numbers and quick fire camp wit.
The story concerns the young and sexy ‘Straight Dave’, fresh from Ireland, who is confused about his sexuality. While working in a gay club as a dancer he falls in love with both “Shell” the bosses daughter, and ‘Mile End Lee”, the local streetwise drug dealer. He is also ambitious and hopes to be become a pop star so he turns to the overweight and overbearing slob ‘Bob Saunders’, a pop manager, who has his own plans for Dave. However, Dave has a friend in ’Billy Tricks”, a 70s rock icon, who is now hostess of the gay club.
Directed with zest by Gemma Bodinetz, whose recent work includes “Luminosity” at the Barbican, this show is full of rich characters and none richer than ‘Billie Tricks’ played phenomally by Frances Barber. Her husky voice and aura is a dream as she commands the stage with her breathless seductive drug induced actions. And even though “Billie Tricks” is someone you would not want your kid to meet, you cannot help but feel warmth for her! Paul Broughton as ‘Bob Saunders’ is underused in the show. This is a rascal of a character that is quite horrible and disgusting, yet you cannot help but like him.
Paul Keating as ‘Dave’, produces a credible performance with lots of sexy energy and competent singing, and David Burt as ‘Vic Christian’, is incredible when he is singing “Vampires”, a powerful song with a powerful message.
The musical is typical Pet Shop Boys so if you like this group then you’ll also love the music. I loved it and cannot wait for the cast album that is due out soon. The lyrics are not too mushy and the story by Jonathan Harvey is racy, although it does falter a bit after the interval.
There is some interesting choreography by Peter Darling, whose credits include the film “Billy Elliot” and recently on stage “Candide” and “Merrily We Roll Along”, and the simple set design by Es Devlin is effective.
The show has received very mixed notices from the popular press with some loving it and others hating it….. NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says the show, “Brings a rush of excitement and daring to London's musical theatre.” SUSANNAH CLAPP for The OBSERVER says, “It delivers its tat with fervour, and its giftedness lightly: the music is better, the rhymes sharper than most of what cruises round the West End. It's essence of camp.” CAITLIN MORAN for THE TIMES says, “The first half was perfect. It was fluffy and meant nothing……The second half, however, sadly and rapidly descended into I-have-something-to-say-itis. BRIAN LOGAN for TIME OUT says, "It's mostly likeable alternative to 'Fame', 'The King and I' and all those other circles of London's very own musical hell." “KATE BASSETT for THE INDEPENDENT did not like it at all saying, “This West End venture is an excruciating failure.” And goes on to say, “The lyrics are so banal that muddy amplification is a mercy.” And continues, “Barber shamelessly hams it up. Keating, supposedly a lust-magnet, is a lacklustre non-entity. Others are charmless cartoons.”
Lasting two and half hours, the theme of the show is gay, ambition and drugs, so you know what to expect. It is a camp and bubbly musical that is most enjoyable(even with the dark message of drugs), and will be particularly popular with the gay community.