Narrator of Jonathan Harvey’s 2001 play Closer to Heaven, Billie Trix, is given her own one woman show in this achingly funny cabaret performance.
Written in collaboration with Pet Shop Boys, Frances Barber reprises her role as the rock icon and actress who has, apparently, had a hand in pretty much all the main cultural events from the sixties onwards.
Fleeing post-war Berlin, Billie arrives in America where she meets Andy Warhol and becomes one of the movers and shakers at The Factory and on the New York music and art scene, even influencing Warhol’s work.
On to the seventies and Billie is a disco queen after a short spell as an actress. Rock star success follows, followed by the inevitable downfall from drink and drugs. She eventually ends up living in a Soho phone box where she is befriended by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
It’s a fantastical tale, told at a whirlwind pace and packed with stinging one-liners best appreciated if you have a grasp on pop culture of the past fifty years or so.
Barber is captivating as this damaged heroine, spitting out insults with perfect timing and although not blessed with the best singing voice, she’s a perfect fit and quite wonderful in the cracking new songs written by Pet Shop Boys.
There is, of course, the inevitable lazy Trump reference. It was all going so well until then. But Harvey just about gets away with it by at least linking it to events that Billie recalls earlier rather than shoehorning it in as practically every play seems to these days.
This is an hour of laugh-out-loud, deliciously outrageous comedy and great music that beneath the surface is laced with an air of melancholy; the ramblings of a lonely fantasist destined to be forever on the margins?
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: The Other Richard