Frances Barber as Billie Trix in MUSIK by Pet Shop Boys and Jonathan Harvey

Frances Barber as Billie Trix in MUSIKWhilst there are many examples of characters on TV and in the movies being spun-off into their own series, there aren’t that many (if any?) musicals that have gone through that process until it happened to fictional rock icon “Billie Trix”. Originally the narrator in the Pet Shop Boys 2001 musical “Closer To Heaven”, she now re-appears in Musik – her very own one-woman show once again played by Frances Barber. The piece which originated at the Edinburgh Fringe last year is now having a run at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Musik tells Billie’s story as she leaves a crumbling, divided Berlin along with a then unknown Nico, to make her way as a singer in America. Along the way, this Zelig like character comes into contact with Andy Warhol where she inspires his soup can artworks, hangs out with Dali and Jean-Paul Sartre (who calls her pretentious), Frank Zappa and gives a young Donald Trump the idea of building walls!

She also has a thing for Prince Harry “I could have been the Duchess of Sussex,” she cries in anguish. She always seems to be in the right place at the right time and defines herself as the “zeitgeist for sore eyes”. Apart from her music, she also stars in a film called “The Masturbation of Race” which almost certainly went straight to video! She has a wonderful arrogance that allows her to ride the musical fads of the past decades including punk and disco – Billie Trix is a true survivor.

Frances Barber plays Billie as a mile a minute, force of nature. She enters the auditorium dressed in a black cape, outrageous hat and an eye-patch. She proceeds to harangue Madonna who she is convinced has stolen her act and the eye patch idea – Billie knows that Madonna is in the audience somewhere and has been cancelling her shows whilst she comes to steal Billie’s ideas. But it’s the shadow of Marianne Faithfull that hangs over the piece with Billie having lived for ten years in a Soho phone box (Faithfull lived on a Soho wall) and both their voices have that forty a day, lived the life, rasp to them.

With a book by Jonathan Harvey (who also wrote “Closer To Heaven”) there are six Pet Shop Boys songs, four of them specially written for the show. The book is very funny and salacious – Trix is larger than life – a very rude and lewd cartoon character come to life. The songs from Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are typical of their output – electronic dance music at it’s best but at times they do seem to interrupt the flow of the delicious narrative.

At under an hour-long, Musik is a lot of fun although it may have been better suited to a smaller cabaret venue rather than the cavernous Leicester Square Theatre. But for all that Frances Barber is fabulous and it’s well worth seeing even if you’re not a big fan of the Pet Shop Boys music.

4 Stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Frances Barber stars as outrageous Billie Trix, icon, rock star, screen goddess, drug addict in ‘MUSIK’ by Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys

‘MUSIK’ by writer Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe is to get a four-week London run following its critically acclaimed sold-out world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A 60-minute, one-woman show, multi-award-winning actress Frances Barber reprises her role as Billie Trix from the 2001 musical, ‘Closer to Heaven’.

Billie Trix. Icon. Rock star. Screen goddess. Drug addict. Billie has lived a life of excess and shares it all in her new one-woman show. Her journey takes us from post-war Berlin to the rock arenas of the world, via the Vietnam war, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and a year in a Soho Square phone box. A stunning performance by Frances Barber as Billie Trix with an outrageous script by Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) and six original songs by Pet Shop Boys.

Twitter: @petshopboys – @cahootstc
Facebook: petshopboys – cahootstheatreco