Monday, 11 May 2015

'Closer To Heaven' at Union Theatre

On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon what better way to spend a few hours than go into a small, dark theatre with lots of flashing lights, synth-beats and dancers wearing very little clothing. Yes, we went to see the revival of the Pet Shop Boys' 'Closer To Heaven' at Union Theatre.

The show sold out really quickly - before I'd even seen the tickets had gone on sale - but they released a limited number of extra tickets so I nabbed them straight away and ended up smack bang in the centre of the front row. There are only about five rows of seats so it's very small and sitting in the front row means you have to keep your feet under your chair so you don't trip up any of the actors. Yes, it's *that* small.

It's the tale of the denizens working in a gay nightclub set in 2000 (although it could be any time from the 80s onwards) with lots of flashing lights and stompy music, more drugs than you can shake a stick at and sex all over the shop including in the mens' toilets. We even get a glimpse into a gay sauna at one point. O yes, it's all in there somewhere. With lots of flesh on display in skimpy costumes and gyrating bodies being decadent in big black, clumpy boots (yes, there's a few cliches).

The gay club owner's daughter Shell turns up to see her dad for the first time in 15 years and meets Straight Danny who's started as a barman but wants to be a dancer, Mile End Lee the local drug dealer and Billie, the former 60s wild child who is now the hostess of the club. Shell starts going out with Straight Danny and she arranges for him to meet the hottest manager who's responsible for all the big boy and girl groups so he can become a singer. Cue sexual shenanigans and obvious jokes and a plot that's paper thin. So thin there are already holes worn in it. Straight Danny turns out to be, well, not straight at all, Shell's dad isn't off drugs and she starts using, Mile End Lee dies from his own drugs and all sorts, but at least Billie is consistent and remains a wild child. The story is a bit thin and predictable but the music keeps it pumping along.

There were some good performances and they tended to be by the older actors for the older characters. Katie Meller was great as the drugged up Billie Tricks, the club hostess who has, possibly, the most fully rounded character. Craig Berry was good as Vic, the club owning gay dad who lets rip and sings a great version of 'Vampire' in his vest. I also really liked Ben Kavanagh as the camp Flynn in his turquoise make-up - he could so easily have gone over the top but he kept it cool and under control. Amy Matthews also did a good job as Shell who made the most of her songs. There were some nice voices in the show but a very under-used one was Connor Brabyn as Mile End Lee who only sings a few lines but had a really good voice. He was rather wasted - I preferred his voice to most and it would be good to hear him in a bigger singing role.

Neil Tennant was in the audience sitting near the door - I wonder what he thought about it?

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