Monday, July 15

Closer To Heaven – Turbine Theatre

A musical by Jonathan Harvey & Pet Shop Boys.

“Let us Take you back to the Millennium for the night of your life…London’s club-land is thriving. Suddenly what was wrong seems right…”

Writer Jonathan Harvey’s zesty and often outrageously risqué gay club land musical has once again landed into London since it first premiered in 2001 at The Arts Theatre. There have been subsequent new productions, more recently in 2015 and 2019 and to celebrate a season of queer love at The Turbine Theatre, Harvey’s Closer To Heaven which features an original club score by Pet Shop Boys is once again giving audiences the opportunity to step back in time as the cosy and intimate theatre metamorphises into ‘Vic’s Club’ for an evening. Closer To Heaven the musical is filled with a superb Pet Shop Boys music score, unrequited love, family issues, wild sexy outfits, raunchy dancing, and certainly some drama! Entering The Turbine space definitely felt like I was stepping into a nightclub with around half of the ‘full house’ audience seated at club tables around the traverse-style stage with the rest of the seating in its more standard form. This spin on a traditional seating style really gave the production a wonderful atmospheric feel. This was my first visit to The Turbine Theatre, which was founded and is led by Artistic Director Paul-Taylor Mills. The theatre is set on the banks of the Thames bordering the wonderous and legendry Battersea Power Station and nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of trendy and up and coming bars and restaurants nearby. The Turbine Theatre is on the smaller end of the scale compared to many of London’s top theatre’s but no less mighty with its big ambitions and desire of bringing new energy to tread their boards. The theatre is passionate about community and offers an energetic public space by day and innovative theatre by night. Theatre staff were attentive, warm and friendly and their hospitality during the evening cannot be praised enough, I look forward to giving the theatre a future visit.

The storyline revolves around the reunion of club owner Vic, played by seasoned international performer Kurt Kansley and his now adult daughter Shell, played by Courtney Bowman. The character of Vic left his family when he realised, he was gay and Kansley played the role with much effort and enthusiasm. Bowman as Shell brought sparks of energy and a definite stage presence to her portrayal. As individual performers I thought they both shone in their own way, however as a father and daughter I did have to dig deep to sense a real chemistry between both actors. However, on reflection and understanding more about the family dynamic, perhaps this was a purposeful artistic choice. Bowman’s character falls for a wannabe popstar and barman ‘Straight Dave’ played by Glenn Adamson and a particularly emotional song Out of My System was brilliantly performed. The character of Vic’s nightclub hostess, narrator and ex rock legend Billie Trix, played by Frances Ruffelle, and who was the original Eponine in Les Miserables is for me the star of the show! Ruffelle takes the spotlight on more than one occasion and plays the part with an authentic vulnerability and edginess, and who brings a wonderful kookiness to the stage. Her singing had the audience in the palm of her hand. Interestingly, Ruffelle is the daughter of renowned founder of Sylvia Young Theatre School, Sylvia Young and is developing a screenplay about Young. It seems a love of all things theatrical must be in the blood. The theme of confusion on ones sexuality and love triangles is very much highlighted in this production, directed by Simon Hardwick and I think handled with just the right amount of delicacy. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Connor Carson, (Dave’s love interest) who played the role of Lee and his fragility perfectly. A very talented performer and singer. Talking of the singing, this is where for me I give Closer To Heaven a solid four stars. The year 2024 marks 40 years since the first Pet Shop Boys record was released and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the most successful duo in UK music history, selling 50 million records. Nonetheless their latest studio album, released April 2024, and produced by James Ford, charted at number two in the UK. Dreamworld their current greatest hits tour concludes with a five-night residency in July at The Royal Opera House, London and Pet Shop Boys are certainly selling out venues and concerts today. Harvey’s writing for me touches on some very relevant and worthwhile topics and blends with Pet Shop Boys music perfectly, I think there were many people in that audience who were there for the synth-y Pet Shop Boys music alone! The cast performed the songs exquisitely and took on each song with a fair amount of gusto. Christopher Tendai, must get a mention for his sexually charged, high energetic, sharp and very watchable choreography. I enthusiastically awaited each musical number and have to say I wasn’t once disappointed.

Ultimately, Closer To Heaven is a fun night out, it doesn’t however shy away from important thought provoking topics and for this fact alone it is to be commended.

Closer To Heaven has been given an extended run and continues at The Turbine Theatre until 27th July.

Reviewer: Mary Fogg

Reviewed: 5th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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