A true gay icon blows into town this February with her one-woman show!
No, I am not talking about Madonna—yes, she’s at the Palladium. This icon of the stage won’t charge you hundreds to see her and will be on time. Frances Barber will be reprising her role in MUSIK as Billie Trix, the washed-up, drug taking pop star that will have you howling with laughter.
You appeared in Closer to Heaven at the Arts Theatre in 2001, which was written by Jonathan and the music was by the Pet Shop Boys. It is said that MUSIK was written especially for you. How did you get together, and what makes the collaboration work so well?
It seems like yesterday that Closer to Heaven opened to savage reviews. It was ahead of its time and the critics just did not know what to make of it. For the most part they had no idea about clubs like Heaven and the gay scene’s drug taking. One thing they did take to was Billie Trix, the washed-up, drug taking German singer I was lucky to play.
Jonathan Harvey is just a brilliant writer, as is the Pet Shop Boys’ music superb. It was 19 years ago the show opened and we remained friends. One night we were all at dinner, we said, we have to do it; we are all passionate about what we do so it works well.
Luckily, I was able to see MUSIK the first time around. It was simply genius! What were your musical influences growing up, and now?
Well, you might be surprised how eclectic my taste is. Being one of six children, I had diverse music coming at me from all angles. My older siblings liked Eric Clapton and Cream and the Beatles and the like, whilst Mum and Dad liked Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. My mum would have been bowled over if she had seen me at her 80th birthday. For me, Northern Soul, punk and David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane were big influences on me.
If you had actually met Andy Warhol, what two questions would you have wanted to ask him?
Oh gosh. Well, how did he come up with the idea for the Campbells’ soup images, was he under the weather and opened a tin and think, here’s an idea!
The obsession he seemed to have with Marylin was the four images he created, victim, survivor, manipulator, glamour. I have always wondered what he really thought of her.
Your character in MUSIK, Billie Trix, makes the transition from music into art. If you could spend one day at a gallery anywhere in the world, where would it be? Whose artwork do you find most inspiring?
Well, to be straight with you, I am not an art critic myself. I know what I like and enjoy going to galleries and looking at art. However, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the lighting is just beautiful there and The Night Watch painting is so powerful. For Peter Greenaway brings art to his films with many things, but his lighting is superb, almost magical. Filming A Zed & Two Noughts was just a beautiful experience.
Your character, Billie Trix, amusingly appears to inhale half of Peru during the show. Drugs are becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK and the LGBTQ+ party community, including ‘ket’ and ‘GHB’, which are notoriously linked to deaths among young individuals. Do you think MUSIK will get people talking about drug use or make them want to rush out for a line? Do you feel there is enough information about these new drugs in general?
Look, who does what is none of my business, we are all grown-ups and live our lives. But this new trend does worry me, especially for young people. I only became aware of chem-sex parties when I was over working in LA. Now do what you like, but when you pick up the papers and read that a man has raped over 170 people using one of these popular drugs, you really think it is time that more information and education given out.
As well as being a bit of a gay icon, you are an active supporter of gay rights. Do you worry that gay rights might be negatively influenced by the current political environment, such as people like Esther McVey in the cabinet who voted against gay marriage and teaching kids in schools about LGBTQ+ issues without parental consent?
My feeling is that Boris Johnson is more liberal than his pressers. He has a little crazy streak in him and won’t allow LGBTQ rights to be affected. At least I hope he keeps to his promises. There are people in the other parties too that don’t exactly wave a flag, let’s not forget.
You resigned from your support of the Labour Party and criticised Jeremy Corbyn. Were you surprised by the results of the election and would you consider going back under a new leader? Do you see anyone in the pipeline that could be a strong Labour representative?
Well, I joined the Jewish Labour Movement. I still have a vote. Like many people, I was expecting a hung parliament. It was a bit of a wakeup call for many. Lisa Nandy is getting my attention however, as leader.
You appeared alongside Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Have you ever considered moving to Los Angeles? Do you feel more passionate about film or theatre?
Oh, I have done the LA thing a few years ago and it was interesting. I am so glad that I waited to go as I am not sure the young me would have coped with it, to be honest, and it is not as exciting as you would think.
Who would you like to work with that you have not yet had the chance?
Really, there are so many wonderful people that it has been a pleasure to work with, from Dame Judi Dench to Vanessa Redgrave. But Helen Mirren would be someone who I’d like to work with, she is superb.
You famously dated legendary director Danny Boyle. Are you in a relationship now?
Oh, dear Danny. It is wonderful how well he has done. Yes, we are still in touch. I called him when he won the Golden Globe and gave my congratulations. Yes, I am in a relationship. (laughs) They’re not in the business, but I am happy.
City or beach break?
Oh, beach break.
Your favourite place in London?
The Tate Modern. I just love it there.
What film would you take the one you love to see?
Without a doubt Some Like It Hot starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. It is so perfect in many ways.
Chinese or Japanese food?
What one thing would you change about London if you were mayor for the day?
This won’t make me popular, but I don’t care: get rid of those cycle lanes, they make the roads worse.