Inside one of Europe’s oldest circuses, the performer formerly known as Christine and the Queens is presenting a psychomagical hallucination that is making us resent having to return to sanity. In support of his new album ‘Redcar Les Adorables Étoiles’, the artist now known as Redcar has brought a deeply symbolic, transmasculine odyssey to Paris’ Cirque d’Hiver, delivering a performance which pushes the boundaries of both theatre and musical performance.
Having postponed the original gig in September following a leg injury, tonight’s rearranged show sees the stage set with a number of pieces that may well have been the culprit. There’s a set of candlelit red stairs which are lined with statues of the Virgin Mary, a sickle moon from which Redcar later swings, a robot-controlled camera that looms on-stage like a large tarantula and a large red statue of the Archangel Michael, the slain knight who bore flowers from his armour.
Thankfully Redcar, wearing a white Miss Havisham dress and whose hands are initially bound together by a purple silk ribbon (both of which are removed with exaggerated agony), appears to have fully recovered from any injury. His body then becomes the spectacle as he holds these discarded parts of himself like a terrible lover, repeating “my wife ‘til I die” from ‘Ma bien aimée bye bye,’ the standout from ‘Redcar Les Adorables Étoiles’, with incandescent anguish.
Dress discarded, Redcar dons a leather hat while the lights behind him turn a gaudy and gorgeous sex shop blue and red. Leaning over a soundboard to the right of the stage, he presses a button that plays the sound of a woman moaning “je t’aime, je t’aime”: it feels woozy and amorous the first two times, but by the sixth, seventh and eighth time, it becomes pathetic, self-damning and tormenting. It’s one of many objects of torment that crop up during the performance; Redcar, it seems, is a character of catastrophe.
A bathroom is then rolled onto the stage. Its mirror reflects the slain knight as Redcar dresses himself as a sailor and flexes his boyish muscles, while a man in a Death mask looms in the background. Death then turns him into an angel — a visual conceit clearly inspired by Tony Kushner’s gay fantasia theatre epic Angels In America, but the rest of the vision is entirely, intriguingly Redcar’s own. Death drapes Redcar in weathered angel wings and hands him a flute, while a screen towards the back of the stage plays footage of an old basketball game. It’s an exemplary moment within the piece: a combination of dream-images that resist rationalisation and instead can only be felt by the individual.
Redcar’s interactions with the statue of Michael are among the performance’s most powerful as they bring his intentions into clearer focus. “The boy I am,” he sings with a glassy choirboy trill while touching the statue’s marbled chest and draping himself in a red feathered scarf, the material mocking and mimicking the textures of the archangel’s wings. Despite Redcar’s deep desire to transcend — to be among the angels, the stars — he’s constantly weighed down by his own folly.
With the statues of Virgin Mary behind him cordoned off by traffic tape and cones, the sacred increasingly turns into the absurd as the performance comes to a climax — not with an army of angels, but with a red and angel-winged silicone dick. Leading up to the ultimate reveal, Redcar ascends the red stairs towards the back of the stage and is briefly hidden behind the curtains, before emerging with a single piece of armour (in tribute to the knight) and a strap-on resembling the Archangel Michael. He descends the stairs, giving the audience a closer look at — wait, yes, those are definitely balls.
Redcar ends the performance dressed in pimp-like finery, cane in hand, hobbling slightly. He goes into the audience, touching hands, brushing knees, looking his crowd in the eyes. In this moment, as Redcar makes physical contact with his respectful and composed audience, it’s easy to see the pop star’s draw to the theatre form (outside the theatre, a sign reads: “POP MUSIC IS DEAD/LONG LIVE THEATRE”). Unlike a pop show, though, the roles between performer and audience are clearly delineated, the boundaries naturally enforced.
Still, Chris didn’t merely take his audience by the scruff of the neck tonight: he made his blood our blood, his yearning our yearning and his anguish our anguish as his search for transcendence flowed through us. If only we could always remain in the fantastic and surreal anti-logic of Redcar’s world.