Pet Shop Boys: Inner Sanctum, Royal Opera House, review: ‘A vivid, laser-laden spectacular’

In a four-night residency at the Royal Opera House, Pet Shop Boys unveiled their brand new stage show ‘Inner Sanctum’

Shaun Curran
Thursday 21 July 2016 12:25 BST
Pet Shop Boys in concert on the first night of four sold-out shows at London's Royal Opera House
Pet Shop Boys in concert on the first night of four sold-out shows at London's Royal Opera House (REX/Shutterstock)

“Tonight I’m afraid there is no ballet or opera,” says Neil Tennant as he surveys the stately Royal Opera House, “just pop kids”. The statement is knowingly self-effacing: three decades into a career which has perpetually showed that pop music and high art cannot only co-exist but surpass supposedly superior musical forms, Pet Shop Boys are still at it. This year’s “The Pop Kids”, a nostalgic, acid-house reflection of Nineties club land in the vein of their 1990 classic “Being Boring”, glories in “telling everyone we knew that rock was overrated”.

In that context, the ROH is a perfectly subversive location for a four-night residency unveiling their brand new stage show Inner Sanctum. If Pet Shop Boys’ injecting of intelligence and pathos into chart hits (42 and counting) has helped take pop to new heights, their conceptual stage shows have become equally vital. Directed by long-time collaborator ES Devlin, Inner Sanctum is split into four acts – In The Night, Sun, Inside and Euphoric – and is a vivid, laser-laden spectacular taking in everything from rotating, multi-coloured pods (from which Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe appear), hip-hop dancing, a swarm of futuristic aliens and a flood of colourful inflatable dancers. Affected, moving, colourful and flat out fun, it is some spectacle.

And with 30 years of copper-bottomed classics to draw on, the music can hardly fail. New album Super is the second of a proposed trilogy with Madonna cohort Stuart Price (who also worked as musical producer for the show). Like its equally strident predecessor Electric, it finds Neil Tennant (62) and Chris Lowe (56) defying pop convention and refusing to bow to age, making some of the most purposefully electronic sounds of their career. It provides some of tonight’s highlights: opener “Inner Sanctum” and “Burn” are unapologetically full-on, hands-in-the-air euphoric.

Long-term PSB fans will be assured the duo’s personalities remain fixed. While at his keyboard Lowe remains Lowe – resolutely motionless – the sparkly-suit clad Tennant is in his element: wearing a permanent expression of “oh, look at this, here’s another pop gem I’ve just found”, he parades the stage with suave certainty, his vocals, particularly on the elegiac “Home and Dry”, still yearning with emotion. As the set reaches its end and the hits pile up with a breathless flurry – the self-questioning disco of “It’s a Sin”, a propulsive “Left to My Own Devices”, the communal rally of “Go West” – Tennant can’t hide his elation.

They end with a reprise of “The Pop Kids”, with its declaration “we loved the pop hits”: and like that, the curtain falls on some of the best you’ll ever hear.

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