Photo: Marc Brenner
Written by Jonathan Harvey and the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Musik’ is a one-woman show that spins off from their 2001 musical ‘Closer to Heaven’. The outrageous and compelling character of Billie Trix is revisited in this show, played again by the fabulous Frances Barber, as she tells us about her hilarious and far-fetched life and career as a “gift to the world”.
Berlin, New York, Paris, a Soho telephone box, even the poop deck of a ship, all feature in this wonderful journey through time, place, culture and history. What is so clever in Harvey’s writing is how current the show is, given the fact it straddles a period running from 1945 to now (this very week in fact). Will the content continue to be refreshed to reflect the latest news across the 4-week run? I get the feeling it probably will, as the cabaret style delivery gives the show a spontaneous and responsive vibe. Billie Trix has a life of her own, so it makes sense the story of that life would also follow its own dynamic set of rules.
Frances Barber fully inhabits Billie Trix, bringing her to life with an engaging warmth and compassion. Yes, Billie is a narcissist, fantasist and terrible mother, but that doesn’t make us wrong to love her. She stole my heart as she growled her way through a song about soup, sung to a poorly Andy Warhol. There is an uninhibited vibrance to Barber’s performance that is pure joy to watch. I laughed often and loudly, just one small voice in the roar of an appreciative audience.
The Pet Shop Boys clearly had a lot of fun composing the music, as the 6 original songs created for Billie are imbued with the same infectious humour that permeates the show. The larger than life opening number sets the scene, and tells us everything we need to know about Billie’s origin story, and her own dramatic personality. Tone set, the show unfurls in Barber’s expert hands.
With a simple, but effective set design, and brilliant use of a/v content, director Josh Seymour’s approach ensures Barber has both the space and visual support needed to make her Billie burst into flamboyant life. The pacing ensures the comedic notes land perfectly, and the time simply flies by. I could happily have stayed for more.
‘Musik’ runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 1st March 2020. Treat yourselves, laughing and music are good for the soul.