** It really ought to be so much better than this
The long-awaited Jonathan Harvey/Pet Shop Boys musical starts off mediocre and descends into empty, tub-thumping campery. Tragic.
Jonathan Harvey is the Orson Welles of British gay theatre: he has never managed to live up to his sensational début, Beautiful Thing. Too much of his writing since has fallen back on a combination of queeny bitching and a sort of gay seaside-postcard smut; then when he gets serious, it's as if his train of thought has jumped the tracks. Closer To Heaven is no exception, with its tale of gay club dancer Straight Dave falling first for the boss's daughter then for a wide-boy drug dealer. Both the emotional journey and the risqué element are at best predictable.
The Pet Shop Boys' songs sound like Pet Shop Boys songs do, until you listen to the words. Neil Tennant's reputation rests on his being more emotionally and linguistically complex than most other lyricists in pop today; here, when he tries to write songs that mesh with the story and characters, it's frightening how thoroughly he loses his touch.
Frances Barber as the house diva is a mixture of Erich von Stroheim, Nico and Mrs Slocombe; Paul Keating gives a better performance than the role of Dave deserves. On paper, this show looked like a solid bet; on stage, it's shockingly rickety.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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