Thursday 21 July 2022

Fashion Freak Show - Review

Roundhouse, London


Written, costumes designed and directed by Jean Paul Gaultier
Co-directed by Tonie Marshall

The company of Fashion Freak Show

From the myth to the mania to the man. Jean Paul Gaultier’s new revue - a cabaret extravaganza time-lining his life - is a vision to behold. A childhood dream revived by an adult, Gaultier’s imagination knows no bounds. From prancing teddy bears in conical bras to psychedelic stage sets, this is a show like no other. 

The spectacle starts simply. Nine-year-old Gaultier is an outcast at school, repeatedly scolded for drawing over listening, until the teacher peers closer and asks to keep a creation and thus the enfant terrible begins. What was at first a movie projection shatters into a million glittering pieces as dancers thrust onto the stage, breasts and all. Gaultier has arrived. Before long, he has his own fashion show, a scene physically divided into light and dark where the catwalk shines against a turbulent backstage.

Then there is the sex, metaphorically played out across a BDSM wheel. Two sets of dancers appear, entwined in oversized garments that stretch to fit them both. One pair is male, the other female. The same-sex couples intimately share their clothes, their space, their skin. Passion finds its home in this show, as Gaultier expresses himself with such conviction that at times it is the audience, rather than the performers, that looks mad. 

The show’s focus wanders after the interval, but is regained with the advent of Gaultier’s fame, projecting media headlines onto the cyclorama and reclaiming a sense of narrative. Powerfully and bathed in red, a dancer moves across the stage, straining against gravity. He is Francis Menuge, Gaultier’s long-time companion, dying from AIDS. 'I’ve got you', comes a song, 'deep in the heart of me', as an an actor playing Gaultier dances with his oversized garment, alone.

True to form, the show ends with a clothes-defying collection. Feathers sprout from heads, wires encase bodies, and ruffles adorn buttocks. We must use fashion, says Gaultier on a screen, not be used by it. Fashion Freak Show is an electrifying retrospective of Gaultier’s unique achievements. More so, it is a homage to fearlessness.

Runs until 28th August
Photo credit: Mark Senior

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