Writer: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Josh Seymour
She is the most famous made-up twentieth-century celebrity you’ve never heard of; music icon, film star and visual artist, a woman whose lovers are as legendary as they are eclectic, whose position at the heart of every cultural happening is unparalleled and whose talent knows no modesty, Bille Trix is playing at our local community centre (aka The Leicester Square Theatre) for one last gig before she heads off into the wilds of Australia.
It’s been quite the life, born into a poverty in post-war Berlin and escaping at 15 on a ship bound for New York, Bille Trix loses her virginity to a cheesy-faced boy who will go on to run the world. As the 1960s become the 1970s, Bille is swept into the path of Andy Warhol who she nurses back to health before finding fame as the songstress of the Vietnam war. As the decades pass, the starlet moves easily with the times until she stands before us ready to face the future.
And Bille is quite the character, the creation of Jonathan Harvey whose successful Edinburgh Fringe run earned a London transfer with this pastiche about a self-absorbed star who has lived enough to fill five lifetimes across this 60-minute show. From her initial claims that Madonna is stalking her and topically cancelling concerts at the theatre next door to see Bille in action, to not so subtle rumours that the downfall of the House of Windsor is in her hands, Harvey’s anecdotal format leaves plenty of room for fresh news.
But this is the man that created Linda La Hughes and Billie is a dash of Kathy Burke’s famous role, with a bit of Eddie from Absolutely Fabulous with plenty of been there done everything twice charm. His characters are rather famed for their lack of self-awareness and Bille is no exception hilariously misinterpreting every trashy review, bitter comment and demand to stop while telling shamelessly story after crass story, name dropping lovers and famous friends from Rudolf Nureyev to Damian Hirst, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bianca Jagger and the Pet Shop Boys.
The latter have pestered Bille incessantly for a collaboration, the in-joke of course that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have written six new songs for Musik each with a very different flavour and suited to the era that Bille describes. Best among them is an anthemic disco number called ‘Ich Bin Music’ in the middle of the show while the Vietnam protest song ‘Run Girl Run’ has a wonderful 60s vibe, all supported by an amusing video backdrop created by designer Lee Newby that mixes pop art montages with photoshopped images of star Frances Barber alongside the great and the good of the mid to late twentieth-century.
Frances Barber is a magnetic performer and in this case is also incredibly game, contributing young images of herself for the backdrop to add to the visual humour while giving the role of Bille Trix absolutely everything she’s got. Bille may be the music, but Barber is this show, papering over the cracks with an energetic and immersive performance that drives Musik along, staying entirely in this harsh no-nonsense character while claiming other artists steal her ideas. Her expressive vocals also add a touch of variety to the format, ranging from gravelly rock where words are virtually spoken to more pop-like dance tunes.
Punctuated by songs, Musik can feel like six stand-up routines and as the show unfolds the big laughs die out as Harvey includes some near-the-knuckle humour that Bille just about gets away with. There are quite a range of jokes though from the crude to the controversial as well as the odd line to make you groan – “Salvador Dali made me a coffin, it was surreal” – but they do feel part of the character. Bille Trix is bold, loud, brazen and couldn’t care less, but she won’t be here for long so head to the local community theatre to see a slightly tarnished but undimmed star while you can.
Runs until 1 March 2020