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: