Billie Trix is an outrageous character who emerged from the 2001 musical Closer to Heaven, a collaboration between Jonathan Harvey and the most successful pop duo of all time, the Pet Shop Boys – who are not spared the mocking tongue of their creation. Conceived amid the rubble of Berlin in 1945, the teenage ingenue gets herself aboard a ship bound for New York in 1960, and soon loses her innocence and her virginity. In a one-hour, one-woman show, Billie tells her life story in a series of bombastic diatribes and scatological ejaculations. She is initially taken up by Andy Warhol at his Factory and pairs up with Nico, who in real life sang with the Velvet Underground and was famously addicted to heroin. Billie Trix (a stage name purportedly suggested by Warhol), also German and also heavily into drugs, is loosely based on her.
But Billie’s career as a singer has lasted a lot longer than Nico’s. Despite her inordinate consumption of heinous substances, not only is she still alive – a surprising fact that has also been remarked of Keith Richards – but she is still going strong. Her career has had its ups and downs. She has been a rock goddess, but has also been reduced to living in a phone box in Soho Square. She has not only slept with numerous rock stars but has brushed up against other celebrated creatives, such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. Like Woody Allen’s Zelig in the 1983 mockumentary, she turns up all over the place, rubbing shoulders (and in her case, other parts) with celebrities. Unlike the Zelig character, however, she is not mild and inoffensive. She is very offensive indeed as she bares all to the audience about her picaresque encounters with the famous. Despite her advanced years she is still at it, even upsetting Harry and Meghan.
The show is a tour de force by the actress, Frances Barber. While by no means as aged as the raddled and foul-mouthed Billie, she has the part off to a tee. And she does not only do colourful invective. She also sings six new songs by the Pet Shop Boys, which are actually rather nice. The show, it must be said, will not appeal to everyone. Some acquaintance with the drug subculture and the history of pop certainly helps one to appreciate Billie’s references. From what I could see last night, though, there were not many who didn’t get it.
- Written by Jonathan Harvey
- Songs by the Pet Shop Boys
- Director : Josh Seymour
- Starring : Frances Barber
- Leicester Square Theatre, London
- Until: 1st March 2020
- Time : 7 p.m., on some days 4.00 or 9.30 – check! (Duration: one hour)