Redcar Les Adorables Etoiles: like a musical and theatrical revolution in a community arts centre
There are a lot of plurals in the title of Christine and the Queens presents Redcar Les Adorables Etoiles, for what is effectively a one-person show. Redcar is the latest trans male musical iteration of Héloise Letissier, a French theatre student who has been playing with themes of sexual, social and gender identity since achieving fame as a soloist disguised as a band.
At this one-off show at the Royal Festival Hall in London, there was to be none of the breezy synth-pop hits that brought Christine and the Queens fame and acclaim. Instead, in the last of only three concerts around the world, loyal fans were presented with a striking if eccentric interpretation of the recently released album of the same rather obtuse name.
Redcar arrived on stage walking with a cane, dressed in a sharp evening suit, affecting the swagger of a macho impresario. He was flanked by three masked assistants, but these plague doctors and skeletons turned out not be musicians or dancers but stagehands, whose jobs were to move props and operate a robot arm.
All attention was on the star, who had to occupy the expansive stage with movement and voice, enacting what was promised to be “a ritual alchemisation” of “the spirit, the soul and the flesh” resulting in a merger of “love and imagination, transmutation, reinvention that leads to revolution!” Which certainly sounded enticing but was a tall order for something more akin to an expressive art dance around religious props while singing through a head mic to a backing track playing the entire Redcar album in order.
Most of the “message” of the piece could probably be discerned in the first song, Ma bien aimée bye bye, when the house lights dimmed for the re-entrance of Redcar, now wearing a voluminous skirt and red bra. To a slinky backing track, he sang of farewells, bidding goodbye to “my wife ’til I die”, whilst wrestling free of the skirt, which clung stubbornly to his ankles. There was merciful humour in such physical theatre, with comedic movement undercutting a heavy-handed metaphor.
Indeed, throughout the evening, Letissier’s inherently playful spirit maintained a kind of buoyancy slightly at odds with the solemnity of the heavy 80s goth-style synthesizers and echoey drum-machine backing, and the emotional melodrama inherent in a set of melancholic songs circling around repression, unrequited desire and yearning for release. “I feel like this is all bulls---!” Letissier complained, to much laughter, when a disembodied voice insisted the ritual required an instrument not normally associated with doomy electronica. “I try to stay strong and now you give me a f---ing flute!”
Over the course of an hour, the muscular Redcar danced athletically and expressively, slipping in and out of odd costumes blending masculine and feminine aspects, from performing semi-topless to appearing as a knight adored with a red strap-on dildo. The audience was generously supportive, although there were a few empty seats dotted around the 2,700-capacity venue, which would have been hard to imagine had this been a Christine and the Queens pop concert.
This project feels like a stepping stone for one of contemporary pop’s brightest artists, who has a more commercial album ready for release next year. That might explain the sense of budget constraint about a show that aspired to the awe-inspiring drama of Cirque du Soleil enacting a religious ritual in a cathedral of the mind but was delivered more like a lonely avant garde performance piece in a community arts centre. Transformation was not achieved, but that didn’t mean the audience and indeed the artist didn’t have fun trying.