Review: Closer to Heaven, Turbine Theatre

A cabaret staging adds atmosphere to Closer to Heaven at the Turbine Theatre but without any major revisions, it’s still a bit of a challenge

“We have no integrity”

There’s so much about Closer to Heaven that ought to be irresistible: queer storylines, the Pet Shop Boys’ score, Jonathan Harvey’s book, there’s so much potential and yet…. Its 2001 West End premiere received mixed reviews at best and whilst a number of fringe revivals have tried to resuscitate it (including the Union in 2015), it’s not immediately clear that this particular patient can be saved.

The Turbine Theatre is the latest to make an attempt and Simon Hardwick’s production has a mighty good go of it, transforming the space into Vic’s Club in David Shields’ cabaret inspired design and tempting the ace Frances Ruffelle back onto a London stage for the first time in too long. The resulting vibes offer up a wonderful sense of atmosphere but vibes can only get you so far.

Set around Millennium eve, the show revolves around the drug-addled crew close to the club. Owner Vic, trying to rebuild his relationship with daughter Shell who he abandoned when he came out; hostess Billie Trix, struggling with the reality that her glory days are behind her; barman Dave, dreaming of becoming a popstar and dating Shell, although local drug dealer Lee is more than catching his attention.

It’s not a great number of plates to keep spinning in the air but almost all of the key relationships here are drawn so thinly that it is hard to engage. The company battle gamely but with so little believable characterisation, so much of the dramatic work falls flat. To be fair, there’s hints that going the other way of all out camp, rather than aiming for emotional depth, might actually be a better ploy, those flashes of cutting, bitchy humour thus a highlight.

Ruffelle and David Muscat’s sleazy music exec get most of the laughs but there is also good work from Connor Carson as the bolshy Lee, peeling back layers of bravado as he connects with Glenn Adamson’s Dave. And the score remains as tuneful as ever, full of the PSB’s customary icy synths and wry lyrics, still the strongest aspect of the show for me. Hardwick’s staging does have a good go – helped by Christopher Tendai’s ebullient choreography – but this show remains as far from heaven as it ever did.

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