closertoheaven - show reviews

Michael Shaw - Pet Shop Boys Fan

I have to admit that my main concern with any revival of 'Closer to Heaven' was whether any actress could step into the
sexy boots of Frances Barber and do justice to the role of the flawed, but ultimately lovable Billie Trix. Well, Jodie Spencer
did just that and at times took the role to a new level, finding new laughs and a new sinister sadistic power to Billie's
advice to the younger members of her entourage. Her accent was spot on, her body language sexy, her eyes and
expressions extremely expressive and her physical comedy produced big laughs (falling down Edina style for Ab Fab
fans!) I have saved the best to last - her singing voice was fantastic and she nearly managed to stop the show with her
rendition of 'Friendly Fire'. I am not just writing this because I ended up sitting behind Jodie's proud mother, but because
said mother bribed me with hard cash! Only kidding.

Vocally I also want to highlight the talents of Emilia Tzilios as Shell and Paul Fish as Vic Christian. (Those readers who saw
the original London production will remember David Burt's performance of 'Vampires' as once of the highlights of the evening).
Again, I wasn't certain whether it would be possible to pull those notes and growls out of the bag, but Paul Fish was right there.
He didn't get to deliver these from downstage but from the gantry at the top (the miking was working well for that number).
I later discovered from the programme that he is a singer with an indie rock band in the Brighton area. Emilia brought a touching
directness to the role of Shell and a really beautiful voice to her numbers including 'Out of my System'

Nathan Potter 'Straight Dave' is a professional dancer and he certainly kicked ass when it came to the dance elements of the show.
He reminded of Paul Keating as a physical type and the Irish accent of the character was present and correct. 'Straight Dave' has to
carry quite a lot of the plot and Nathan did this admirably, really believable in his love scenes with Emilia and (PLOT SPOILER HERE)
Callum McIntyre as Mile End Lee. Nathan seemed a bit hesitant in some of his vocal numbers. See my grumble about the sound design later.
However in the second half of the show it became clear that there is was a lovely voice hiding there!!

Callum himself was perfectly cast as the young f***** up drug dealer. With a face like a puppy and a body that looked good in and out of the shell suits that help to characterise him, it was difficult not to build up sympathy for Mile End Lee from early on in the show. The 'Closer to Heaven' duet in bed with Straight Dave was very moving.

Richard Godwin and Charlie Bedson were a great double act as Bob Saunders and Flynn. Richard Godwin looked more respectable than the Bob Saunders in the original London cast production but once the paunch was out and the sleaze factor turned up, it became obvious that the character was an odious lech and even worse!!! Charlie had to deliver some great very camp one liners as Flynn. The actor in the programme says 'his only hope is that he wasn't type cast!'

Billie's Babes are the chorus and core of the show. The have to sing and dance and wear some ridiculous costumes. They showed huge levels of energy and threw great shapes in the fantastic choreography by Sherryn Watkin, assisted by Nikki Leach. The number showing off Billie's Babes, 'Caligula' was funnier than in the West End , I never quite 'got it' at the Arts Theatre, but it was ridiculously silly here in Brighton. The director had chosen not to have Billie's Babes directly interacting with the audience as in the original production but bearing in mind that the audience would have many proud mums dads etc maybe this was wise!!!

I have got this far without mentioning the musical arrangements. Well petheads - they are great. Jonathan Allen and Jude Obermüller (Assistant programming) have done a fantastic job in bringing the score to life again. I didn't ask any technical questions, but the music seems to be computer generated from the side of the stage and there were no extra 'live' musicians such as drummers to get in the way!!!

The staging was simple but effective, on two levels of the stage with furniture being wheeled on and off and doubling for example as a bed and the coffin for the funeral scene toward the end of the musical. The lighting design by Gabriel Phillips -Sanchez really conjured up the nightclub atmosphere required and together with deliberate sound distortion the 'K Hole' scene was a frightening depiction of taking too many drugs!

The show had impressive direction from Louis Craig, My only real grumble with this was with the pause in between scenes, as I didn't feel that this was always necessary. More of a flow would't have hurt!

Right big technical grumble now!!!

From where I was sitting, it sounded as though there were major problems with the sound design. At times I could not hear the principles when they were speaking or singing. This was such a shame, as when the sound became clearer and Jonathan Harvey's delicious comic lines were bouncing back and forth everything fell into place.

I have written less of an overall review and more of a piece to highlight the amazing talent on the stage last night. Even though this is billed as an amateur production, many members of the cast have worked professionally in the industry also. I do urge fellow petheads to make the effort to see this show. it contains some of the PSB's finest tunes and also some great laughs and moving thoughtful moments thanks to Jonathan Harvey. A big thank you to everyine involved in bringing this musical back where it belongs - on the 'live' stage. I can't wait to see it again on Saturday.

PS Interval chips.

I revisited my chips in the interval, in the garden / courtyard area. I was careful too heed the notices that warned against leaving scraps for gulls as they can spread disease. It's not often when you go to the theatre that you have to 'beware of the gulls!