Graham Bickley, Sophie-Louise Dann,
Arvid Larsen and Issy van Randwyck in Closer Than Ever
Graham Bickley, Sophie-Louise Dann, Arvid Larsen and Issy van Randwyck in Closer Than Ever
© Francis Loney

Richard Maltby Jr and David Shire wrote Closer Than Ever in the 1980s, developing the show from observing friends, and from stories they picked up about relationships with friends, lovers and spouses. The 1980s New York setting (with the addition of anachronistic smartphones) is largely irrelevant - these are situations and relationships that are relevant at any time, for anyone.

Told through a series of cleverly-written narrative songs ("The Bear, The Tiger, the Hamster and The Mole" and "The March of Time" are stand-outs), Closer Than Ever features strong performances from the note-perfect cast of Graham Bickley, Sophie-Louise Dann, Arvid Larsen and Issy van Randwyck.

Van Randwyck in particular draws every iota of cheeky humour from songs such as "Miss Byrd", the bespectacled spinster who everyone sees as straightlaced but who really isn't, and "Back on Base", a raunchy tale of love with a bass-player.

Some of the rhymes jar (Florida/corridor - ouch!) and, while catchy at the time, the songs aren't so memorable that you'll be humming them on the tube home. The four singers' voices are well-matched when performing together, though Dann at full tilt tends to overwhelm the others. The musical accompaniment by Nathan Martin (piano) and A-J Brinkman (bass) is perfect, and each has a lovely moment in the spotlight when they become part of the onstage action.

The show's format is both its strength and its flaw. The overall theme comes through strongly, and is reinforced by the simple set of five white doors, a visual representation of the doors opening, closing and staying locked in the characters' lives. Yet the show lacks a coherent narrative thread, with each vignette featuring different characters at various stages in their lives. It's snapshots rather than storyline, thus with little feeling of character development.

But the underlying strength of the songs and the accomplished performances of Bickley, Dann, Larsen, van Randwyck, Martin and Brinkman overcome any deficiencies. Closer Than Ever thoroughly deserves its four stars.

Closer Than Ever runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 7 June 2014