Photo: Mark Senior

We’ve been keen to check out Closer to Heaven for some time, so when this revival was announced at the cosy Turbine Theatre down by Battersea Power Station, we knew we had to be there to check it out. For those unfamiliar, it’s a musical from 2001 with a book by Jonathan Harvey (best known for seminal gay play Beautiful Thing) and original songs by iconic queer pop duo Pet Shop Boys. The show has spawned a spin-off sequel called Musik which we’ve actually already seen – which is a cabaret show focused on one of Closer to Heaven’s protagonists, Billie Trix – so we thought it was high time we caught the original source material.

First impressions are good: the Turbine Theatre has been reconfigured into Vic’s Nightclub, with a semi-immersive seating configuration surrounding a catwalk-style stage (if audience participation isn’t your thing, never fear, you’re welcome to opt out). Former Eurovision star and Tony-winning musical theatre actress Frances Ruffelle is our host for the evening and she’s a delight to watch – armed with most of the show’s best lines, she delivers a high-camp performance which is ridiculously over the top and always captivating.

We’ll say this right away – we don’t think Closer to Heaven is either Jonathan Harvey’s finest script, nor does it showcase Pet Shop Boys’ songwriting prowess. There are some decent lines in here but there are some clunky ones too, and a few underdeveloped characters – Mile End Lee is an integral part of the plot and is played sensitively by Connor Carson, but he’s hampered somewhat by a lack of airtime. Some of the jokes and cultural references haven’t aged terribly well and likely won’t land with a younger audience. The songs aren’t the best, either – there are a few entertaining ones, but there are also a few duds, with most falling into the ‘good enough’ category… it’s light on bangers and that’s a shame.

The musical is enjoyable nonetheless and that’s thanks to a talented cast who manage to sell it for all it’s worth. There are strong vocal performances from Glenn Anderson as ‘straight’ Dave and Courtney Bowman as Shell, and the club’s dancers turn out some impressive choreography. Our favourite performance, however, came from David Muscat as record label boss Bob Saunders – a villain so repulsive as to be almost pantomime-esque, he succeeded in making us hate him throughout, but with a healthy dose of humour thrown in.

We enjoyed our evening with Closer to Heaven – while we think there are some issues with the book and the songs, this is an entertainingly energetic and camp production with impressive singing and dancing, and some enjoyably daft performances. It opened earlier this week at the Turbine Theatre and will be playing until 30th June.

GAY TIMES gives Closer to Heaven – 4/5

More information can be found here.