Theatre review: Muzik by Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys
If she was not inhabited by the extraordinary Frances Barber, writes Cary Gee, then drug-addled fantasist rock star Billie Trix would quite rightly have been left to die in a K hole of obliteration on the floor of Vic’s nightclub, which is where we first met her in the musical Closer to Heaven.
It might have been kinder to leave her there. Twenty years later playwright Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Gimme Gimme Gimme and Coronation Street) has for reasons best to known to himself, picked her up, dusted her off and, in a bold move, given the insipid plot and lack of characterisation that bedevilled her original outing, awarded her her own one-woman show.
Subtitled the Billie Trix Story, Musik gives Barber / Trix free rein to camp it up like a choirmaster at a scout jamboree, and she seizes her opportunity with both fists, never letting go.
Before an often hilarious video projection Billie Trix tells us her backstory, a double fiction, with relish, and, as with all fantasists, it is only knowing that her lies must contain a tiny grain of truth somewhere that keeps you listening as she takes you on a whirlwind tour of the highs and highs of a life lived at the epicentre of twentieth century pop culture.
It was Billie, of course, who first nurtured the unknown Nico, (on whom Harvey has clearly feasted for inspiration), fed Warhol the soup that made his fortune, stopped the Vietnam War single-handedly and slept with the President of the USA. And as Billie, Barber is in her element. The sheer gusto with which she rattles through the life she might have led just about papers over the cracks of a pink-wafer-thin script.
Four new songs from collaborators the Pet Shop Boys – including Billie’s first single Cover me in Calamine and the disco floor-filler Ich Bin Musik – plus a reprise of Closer to Heaven’s stand-out ballad Friendly Fire, act as way stations in her life, and distract you from playing a silent game of “Where Have I Heard that Joke Before?” sufficiently long enough to get through the hour with the smile you came in with largely intact.
But, and not for the first time in her career, the night belongs to Barber.
Musik is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 1 March. Go to: leicestersquaretheatre.com