entertainment

Review | Pet Shop Boys musical 'Musik' at Leicester Square Theatre: 'Simply staggering'

Frances Barber is ferocious and fabulous in this one-of-a-kind cabaret spin-off of 2001's 'Closer to Heaven'.

2020-02-13

Words: Simon Button

As the faded, possibly deluded performance artist Billie Trix in Musik, a mesmerisingly committed Frances Barber is all the F-words: Fierce, ferocious, full-on, foul-mouthed and oh so fabulous.

We first encountered this deranged diva as the narrator of the Pet Shop Boys-scored, Jonathan Harvey-penned musical Closer To Heaven back in 2001 and more recently in a retooled 2019 revival.

This sequel of sorts puts Billie centre stage for a one-woman show which - pansexual and pandering to no-one - she insists on calling a one-being show.

Photo: Marc Brenner

And what a show it is! A 60-minute whirligig featuring six PSB songs and one side-splitting Harvey quip after another as Barber breathlessly takes us through Trix’s troubled history from rebellious Berlin teenager to being forced to set up home in a Soho Square phone box, via Warhol-era Manhattan and the obligatory dabbling in disco in a song called ‘Ich Bin Musik’ that is deliberately kind of terrible but also really catchy.

Along the way she name-drops Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Prince Harry, Donald Trump (“with a penis like a Walnut Whip’) and Tracey Emin. Taking to the stage in black coat and eye patch, she also has an impassioned go at Madonna - accusing the Material Girl of stealing her style and stalking her by setting up a residency at the nearby Palladium.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Billie fancies herself as a punk icon, like Nico or Marianne Faithful, but is it mad to suggest she also comes across like a sort of German cousin of Petula Gordeno, Julie Walters’ batshit bonkers mum to Victoria Wood’s Bren on Dinnerladies?

Maybe not, since Jonathan Harvey is a huge Victoria Wood devotee and both Billie and Petula are arch fantasists whose claims to fame are as dubious as they are hilarious.

Barber isn’t really a singer but neither were Nico and Marianne and Tennant and Lowe’s songs are built for her to tear into with anger and passion. Likewise the script, which is one long cocaine-and-Jack-Daniels-fuelled stream of consciousness that the actress puts absolutely everything into.

Photo: Marc Brenner

She’s simply staggering, which makes this a too-short show that ends far too abruptly. Billie storms out of the auditorium, ranting again about Madge, and doesn’t return for an encore - leaving everyone wanting so much more.

In the end, it doesn’t feel fully-formed or completely finished, but that’s OK - I have a hunch Billie will be back, because there’s no keeping a deranged diva down for long.

Rating: 4.5/5

'Musik' is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 1 March. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.