The Union Theatre is a small fringe theatre with very intimate spacing, in the heart of Southwark. The theatre itself has reputation for staging high-quality musicals, such as a very successful Gilbert and Sullivan operetta season, Bare and The Dreaming. In spite of all this, last year the theatre petitioned to keep their space as it was threatened with closure and are soon to be moving to a purpose built facility close by.
Closer To Heaven is the show more commonly known as the ‘Pet Shop Boys Musical’ due to them writing the orchestrations, and the book is written by Jonathan Harvey. It premiered at The Arts Theatre in May 2001, receiving mixed reviews, before closing in October of the same year. Having the Pet Shop Boys name behind the show attracts a lot of diehard fans. This run at The Union has already seen fans travel from Asia to see the show. The show encapsulates the lives of a volatile group of people working in a gay bar in London in the early 2000’s, learning about the music industry – and the calibre of people that come with it, experimenting with drugs and dabbling with relationships.
Jared Thompson makes his professional debut as leading man ‘Straight Dave’, an Irish lad who’s moved to London and gets mixed in with an unsettling crowd. Thompson shows good maturity of performance having excellent chemistry with all fellow leads, especially his leading lady ‘Shell’, Amy Matthews. Thompson delivers across the board knock out performances: he has strong pop vocals, combined with sexy dance moves that had audience members tapping their feet at ogling as he gyrated and undulated around the stage. Thompsons noticeable strength is his acting, again showing such maturity of performance for someone who has still not graduated yet?! Throughout the show he delivered brilliant scenes spanning a vast range of emotion from cocky new eye candy to a devastating funeral.
Leading lady, Amy Matthews, and leading man, Jared Thompson, are a match made in heaven. Both of whom are very strong actors. Matthews commands the stage with her rendition of ‘Get Him Out Of My System’, showing what an incredible vocalist she is. On the contrary, in an earlier song, ‘In Denial’ not as much of a difficult sing for Matthews, however this is where she showcased her naturalistic, raw and powerful acting choices.
‘Mile End Lee’, the local drug dealer providing everyone with their hit, and catalyst to the plot twist of the show was played very convincingly by very recent Urdang Academy graduate, Connor Brabyn. Brabyn’s delivery of a stereotypical ‘east ender’ was admirable to watch. His ballsy portrayal of the typical cockney lad was great to watch, and his extreme commitment to the physicalisation of bodily functions (without spoiling too much) was excellent to see!
Closer To Heaven have an all round notably strong ensemble which perform the choreography of Philip Joel exceedingly well. Joel utilised the small space well, considering he had a cast of fourteen to work with. The full ensemble numbers were clean, tight, efficient and for such a small space there was never any doubt of anything going wrong! The ensemble through the duration of the show gave strong commitment to the extravert and eccentric characters they were playing, it aided the trashy club scene brilliantly.
The show in itself lacks strength in some areas of songs and lyrics, some of which seem awkward or unpoetic. However, because the show is so fun and full of character, the performers often over ride the awkwardness seemingly imposed on them through the lyrics. Closer To Heaven has a sold out run at The Union, however, to get a ticket you can queue up at the theatre on the evening of the show and wait for returns – which is strongly recommended! The standout lead of the evening is Jared Thompson for his gorgeously emotive delivery of ‘For All Of Us’ showing the importance of sincerity in stillness when acting. And standout ensemble member has to go to Ellie Mitchell for her constantly strong vocals, consistency of accuracy of the choreography and for overall continually drawing my attention with her performance.
Reviewed by Thomas Yates
Closer to Heaven is playing at the Union Theatre until 23 May. The entire run is sold out.
Photo: Darren Bell