Review: Musik - Frances Barber is brilliant and barbed in World Premiere of Pet Shop Boys musical cabaret

Frances Barber as Billie Trix
Frances Barber as Billie Trix
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REPRISING a character she created for Pet Shop Boys’ West End musical Closer to Heaven some 18 years ago, Frances Barber storms on stage as drug-addled club hostess Billie Trix in this hour of barbed one-liners, banging songs and beautifully crafted subversion.

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ASSEMBLY BIJOU, George Street

The latest collaboration between writer Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, Musik finds an aging Billie Trix reflecting on her life, sharing often explicit tales.

“Nothing will be more iconic that what you are about to witness...” she purrs, acknowledging her place at the Fringe.

Then with nothing more than a bubble machine, some Jack Daniels, a puppet, a tambourine and some flowers in her hair, she’s off... Billie Trix is ‘music’, is ‘art’, is ‘gender’.

She reveals this during an epic rant, in which everyone from Madonna to Andy Warhol and Donald Trump are in her sights - all ripped her off, she insists.

Jonathan Harvey is at his most biting as he cleverly weaves together satire, pop and in-jokes - lines revisited from Closer To Heaven get a particularly warm reception from fans present.

It’s a rapid-fire script at times as brutal as the architecture in the footage projected during the opening number, Mongrel, one of six in the show.

Barber delvers each song and line with scarcely concealed glee, relishing each outrageous quip, her deft timing enhancing their impact.

As she prowls her desolate past, the soundtrack shadows her through the decades.

Soup, a tongue in cheek tribute to Warhol, is delivered with complete conviction despite the absurdity of its nature.

Run, Girl, Run, which will be familiar to some, takes on a whole new poignancy, while Ich bin Musik, with all its trademark doffs, whoops and loops of the 80’s is a good old-fashioned floor-filler.

Friendly Fire, originally written for Closer To Heaven, carries perfectly the despair at the heart of the character.

Are Billie’s truths just the drug-fuelled ramblings of a damaged soul unravelling before our eyes? Does she know this deep down?

It matters little by the time Barber sings the final number, For Every Moment, a thoughtful uplifting anthem that lifts the heart.

So too does Barber’s mesmeric presence, which makes this one Fringe show guaranteed life after Edinburgh. As Billie might say, “Ich bin Fringe’.

Until 25 August