We're not sure what we just watched, but it was amazing
An animated image of God projects onto smoke-machine chemtrails streaming down in front of a red silkscreen. “You are almost in heaven,” the animated smoke God bellows to Redcar, the new alter ego of Chris, also known as Christine and the Queens. The chameleonic French artist, who came out publicly as transmasculine earlier this year, stares longingly back at him. “The only thing left for you to do is to play the flute, then the doors of heaven will be wide open.”
On his word, lorikeet angel wings descend from the rafters of the Royal Festival Hall, which Redcar snatches from their hook, attaching them tightly to his back.
“But it just feels a bit weird for me to play the flute in order to get to heaven,” he reasons in reply, refusing to fast-track his entrance through the pearly gates. “I didn’t do this whole thing just to play the flute.” And that’s all the explanation we’re going to get.
It’s the third night of Christine and the Queens presents Redcar, following two sold-out performances at Paris’s Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione. The theatrical companion piece to his third album Redcar les adorables étoiles bestows a direct challenge to those who dare accept it, demanding a full transmutation of the imagination.
For its London debut, the stage is set as a strange nativity, with rows of plastic candles arranged like a cathedral choir glowing in and out of sight, making silhouettes of a house-full of knickknacks: star-shaped cushions, traffic cones and statuettes of the Virgin Mary, clutter you’d more likely find in your grandma’s living room. The red resin statue of the Archangel Michael that towered over his recent Jools Holland performance looms still above his right shoulder, in front of the empty armour of a slain knight surrounded by cheap flowers.
Rocking back and forth over the scene is the skeleton of a crescent moon hanging from an invisible thread, which Redcar professes his love to in an oddly heartfelt sample pad-controlled dialogue. The moon replies dutifully: “I love you”, “stay strong Redcar” and “poetry will win”, as ripples of nervous laughter wave around the audience. Redcar assures us it’s not a joke. “It’s magic, what we’re trying to do here tonight. Thank you for being here and allowing your imaginations to merge with mine.”
The legions of fans watching on in Christine cosplay – oversized office suits and perfectly uncut greased-back hair – certainly won’t get their favourites played tonight, but the deeply absurd world of Redcar is the most uncompromised his output has felt since the overnight acclaim of Chaleur Humaine.
He salvages his mother tongue for all but the whole night, performing each track from the new record. “Aren’t you happy this is in French?” he breaks character to yell, dancing up the aisles and hugging the Southbank Centre’s security guards. “Aren’t you happy to work in this place on this very special night? I am French! Yeah-hew. I am working with my very innermost certainties.”
He jolts across the stage in half a wedding dress, as ‘Ma bien aimée bye bye’ soundtracks a Houdini-like struggle to free himself from the armlock of a purple ribbon. He drinks from a golden fountain of semen, saliva, sweat and tears, and professes he will live forever. Later, ‘Combien de temps’ interrupts a philosopher’s monologue about reshaping the self with the opening flutters of beach bar synths. The wildest surrealisms are totally invigorated; it’s anyone’s guess where absurdity ends and creativity begins.
“Is this evening working or am I just insane? Do I have a lot of imagination or am I just very lonely?” Redcar pauses to question, now standing in front of a bathroom mirror which one of his loyal gargoyle-faced stagehands has wheeled out to him, placing his angel wings on the wall above a fake porcelain bathtub.
It’s rhetorical. More than anything, Redcar feels like a treaty for the collective imagination. We don’t know if he ever makes it to heaven; we don’t know if he ever plays the flute; we don’t know if that was ever the intention. We barely know what’s been happening for the last hour, and it’s unclear whether or not he does either. Nothing is resolved.
“But I have all the time in the world to work it out,” he smiles, basking in the bewildered standing ovation that righfully follows. “Besides, what’s a magician without an audience accepting to be tricked?” And with that, he reclines back on the crescent moon, swinging to another chorus of “poetry will win” above the bric-à-brac stars.
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