BWW Reviews: CLOSER TO HEAVEN, Union Theatre, April 28 2015
Closer to Heaven (continuing at the Union Theatre until 23 May) enjoys some very considerable advantages. The theatre's location (under railway arches) echoes that of the Heaven nightclub itself, so a mere sprinkling of shimmer and an earful of pounding beats is plenty enough to transport us back in time. The songs, by the Pet Shop Boys, have plenty of their catchy angst and clever wordplay (though the hooks do tend to merge into one another after a while). And the cast look fantastic, with Jared Thompson (Straight Dave) and Connor Brabyn (Mile End Lee) turning in strong performances as the boy-band beautiful unlikely lovers and Ben Kavanagh (Flynn) resurrecting the late Steve Strange as an uncanny lookalike. Choreographer Philip Joel gets the cast moving round the tiny stage with great aplomb - at times it feels like there's hundreds gyrating.
Despite all that, the show doesn't quite succeed. The acting is uneven and, when the music isn't playing, too static with too much declaiming, not enough conversation. Some of the singing is too thin to balance the synthesised pop pumping out of the speakers, which is disappointing in a venue renowned for strong vocal peformances. But the cast are let down by Jonathan Harvey's pedestrian script, one that simply doesn't give them enough to do. Too many characters are simply stereotypes: Katie Meller's fading fag hag; Craig Berry's closeted Dad; Amy Matthews' naive Shell; Ken Christiansen's predatory Bob; and they never get the chance to progress beyond those limitations.
So there's lots of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, but there isn't quite enough of the stuff of drama - tension, plot, jeopardy - to sustain our attention for the two hours running time. That's a shame really, as there's much to say about a world pre-social media, pre-reality TV, pre-political apathy, and yet only 15 years in the past. There's lots of Opportunities, Actually, but too much time is spent Being Boring.