We enter straight into the dance floor of a lively gay bar in the year 2000, around about the time that this musical by Jonathan Harvey and the Pet Shop Boys was written and originally staged. The scene is immersive and pretty captivating. There is no doubt that this club is the place to be, for the atmosphere as well as the talent on show. Lights and music blare, and play us straight into the show five minutes later.
What transpires is the tale of doomed lovers. Shell (Amy Matthews) is at the club to reunite with her father (Craig Berry) – the club’s drug-addled owner – for the first time in over a decade. Entering soon behind her is Straight Dave (Jared Thompson), a ‘fresh-off-the-boat’ Irish lad, who’s here to make it as a dancer. The moniker isn’t ironic, so he says.
After a kiss out the back and three months in bed together, their relationship never really gets off the ground and finally crumbles thanks to Dave’s wandering eye. Understandably peeved, Shell weighs up her choices: to take revenge or magnanimously move on. Dave however is caught up attempting to find firm footing in his new, now not-so-straight love life.
It’s as flimsy as any plot drawn from a connect-the-dots exercise down an album track list, and the show also attempts to further its appeal by increasing the amount of gym-hardened flesh on show. But the show comes into its own in the vibrantly choreographed chorus numbers. Philip Joel does a great job to capture the moves of the Y2K scene, and fills the stage with full-on rave front. In these moments the talented chorus are thrillingly aggressive. It’s great too to see musical director Patrick Stockbridge having a brilliant time behind the decks on stage. Again, the chorus numbers work best musically: the space proves problematic for a backing track that needs to be blasted, but must be subdued in order not to drown out the un-miked actors.
The show’s main appeal is outside of the central love story. While Dave is every bit the fantastic dancer he says he is, it’s tough to see why Shell would fall for Dave. She’s just not the sort of girl you expect to follow up on a kiss from a man in pink denim hot pants in the back alley behind her dad’s club. Most of the best moments are when manufactured pop factory Bob (Ken Christiansen) and our K-hole hostess Bille Tricks (Katie Meller) take centre stage. They certainly have all the best lines.
Whenever there is an attempt to go deeper into the material, it isn’t long before we hit granite. Storylines dealing with relationship and substance abuse issues are well signposted. However, I did leave wanting to explore the concept of boybands more than a lively Swedish sauna scene allowed for.
A great night out I’m sure, and certainly so with the right company, Closer to Heaven does have moments of infectious energy and cutting asides. If the sound of a time capsule shaped like a gay bar in the year 2000 sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll find everything you’re looking for. But you’re unlikely to stumble into anything more long-term than just a good night out.
Closer to Heaven plays at the Union Theatre until 23 May. For tickets and more information, see the Union Theatre website. Photo by Darren Bell.