Tag Archives: Jonathan Harvey




Leicester Square Theatre



 Leicester Square Theatre

Reviewed – 11th February 2020



“Barber’s delivery is as fantastic as the words are fantastical.”


You’re not long into “Musik” before you realise that this isn’t really a musical at all. Although it features six original songs penned by the Pet Shop Boys, the focus is unquestionably on Jonathan Harvey’s wonderfully outrageous script and the sheer personality that bursts forth from Frances Barber’s magnificent performance.

Barber plays Billie Trix, a retired rock icon and actress in this sequel to ‘Closer To Heaven’ which premiered nearly twenty years ago just around the corner at the Arts Theatre to somewhat mixed reviews. Trix was a minor character but even then, Barber made her the star of the production, so it seems inevitable that she be given her own show. And as she strides through the auditorium up to the stage, she makes no bones about this being her show. Barber owns the character outright, and to some extent the script, allowing herself some ad hoc ad libs. Madonna’s cancelled gig at the Palladium is the first target of Billie Trix’s acerbic banter.

It’s a kind of cradle to grave narration. Although, despite her sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll life of excess, Trix is determined to keep her unavoidable destination at arm’s length. She was born a ‘mongrel’, her own mother’s one regret, but rises above this with the narcissist’s belief against all odds that she is a ‘gift to the world’. We never know for sure how much she believes her own fantasy, but we are spellbound by her anecdotal wizardry. The ushers will surely have their work cut out after the show, sweeping up the countless names she has dropped. She’s been there, done that and has the emotional scars to prove it. Andy Warhol stole her Campbells’ Soup Tins idea. Madonna stole her image; even Trump stole her virginity (though he was then a skinny lad called Otto). We want to believe it all as she takes us on her journey from post-war Berlin to the rock arenas of the world, via Vietnam and a Soho phone box. She has shared moments with them all – the Beatles, Lou Reid, Nico, Dalí, Damien Hirst, Eminem, Jean-Paul Sartre, Frank Zappa…

Trix was at the forefront of each revolution in pop culture. Brecht’s original ‘Mother Courage’, a star of the New York art-house film scene, the pioneer of Disco; the darling of the Surrealists and the scourge of the Young British Artists. Trix looks back on her fantastical life with bitterness but in Barber’s hands the only real rage we witness is that of laughter. Barber’s delivery is as fantastic as the words are fantastical. The further Billie Trix falls into obscurity the higher Frances Barber rises. You can see the sparks fly as she hones Harvey’s already razor-sharp script.

If anything, the music softens the punch. Trix showers us with a bewildering cascade of anecdotes and one-liners, which make the musical interludes feel a bit like a commercial break. The synth-pop sound does little to reference the text, although the lyrics do shine through thanks to Barber’s crackling voice. Unlike Trix, Barber knows her limitations and it is this loveable self-deprecation that allows us to love such an unloveable, foul-mouthed character.

“Someone make it stop!” Trix shouts out at one point. A vain exclamation as Barber is unstoppable. Trix may be washed up, but Barber is on the crest of a wave with this role.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Leicester Square Theatre until 1st March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice | ★★★★ | April 2018
Sh!t-faced Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | June 2018
Murder She Didn’t Write | ★★★★ | September 2018
Sh!t-faced Showtime: Oliver With a Twist! | ★★★ | September 2018
Stick Man | ★★★½ | October 2018
Sh!t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist | ★★ | March 2019
Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: The Taming Of The Shrew | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet | ★★★ | June 2019
Sh!t-Faced Showtime: A Pissedmas Carol | ★★★★★ | November 2019
Captain Flinn And The Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass | ★★★★ | December 2019


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Beautiful Thing – 3 Stars


Beautiful Thing

Greenwich & Docklands Festival

Reviewed – 4th July 2018


“Visually, ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a feast of glowing colours, striking shadows and moving images”


Community – its infrastructure, its buildings, its people and its history – is at the heart of this new dance-theatre production of Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Beautiful Thing’. Taking place entirely in and around a block of the now-abandoned Binsey Walk estate (famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’), Bradley Hemmings and Robby Graham’s production brings a coming-of-age love story home to its original setting – and what a setting.

The story will be familiar to some: Two Binsey Walk lads overcome parental woes and scholastic strife to find love. Hemmings and Grahams have crafted an almost wordless show that episodically retells the development of Ste and Jamie’s relationship like a greatest hits medley of the original film. Obviously intended to please crowds of Thamesmead locals and members of the LGBTQ+ community old enough (sorry!) to remember the 1993 film, the show relies on full-blown spectacle to impress and amuse, making use of the large outdoor space to bring in the 180-bus to Greenwich, cars, a VW campervan and even a JCB pickup. Visually, ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a feast of glowing colours, striking shadows and moving images. The housing block becomes a canvas for colourful and explosive projections that look cool but fail to contribute more than just showing the action we are already witnessing up-close. When Sandra learns her son could be gay, photos and film clips of her young son invite the audience into her internal world and proves one of the most moving moments of the show.

The choreography is fairly one-dimensional and underdeveloped, not quite catching the nuances of the story or characters. Despite having a huge playground, the energetic and impassioned performers are often trapped in small rooms and get lost in the spectacle of light and sound. Phil Supple’s lighting design is astonishingly good, giving each house and room a colour and identity, turning the block from dull estate to vibrant gay club in a flash.

Binsey Walk itself is the star attraction here. Some hate British post-war architecture, but here the building is let loose, representing something more than the sterility and poverty usually associated with British housing estates. The team could definitely have gone farther than just giving what it knows its audience will recognise and love. Ste and Jamie’s story feels somewhat dated, and this production taps into nostalgia rather than a re-telling of the story for a new generation of young gay men.

This historic site is about to become victim to the bulldozer. Crossrail looms. Communities and how they interact in Thamesmead, and indeed London, have changed a lot in twenty-five years. But by literally letting the audience see how the communal spirit tucked inside a place like Binsey Walk can produce a positive story of diversity, understanding, support and love against the odds, we are reminded that community is still out there for us to find, and it’s through others that our true selves can come into their own.


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by  Camilla Greenwell 


Beautiful Thing

Greenwich & Docklands Festival until 7th July



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