Jean Paul Gaultier's catwalk cataract initially promises to watch a woman in a pink satin corset, played on a cart and accompanied by an incomprehensible Gallic rendition of Light My Fire, be more Eurotrash than high fashion. In fact, it is a two-hour romp through Gaultier's life that shows his iconic, avant-garde creations with humor, creativity and free-spirited fun.
For fashionistas, it's an orgasmic feast of punk rock bags, rococo bees, tinsel-flavored bears, piping bodysuits, architectural corsetry, week-by-day cone bras and the designer's trademark of maritime chic. Only fashion's "Enfant Terrible" could produce a six-row, eight-legged alien model wrapped in a bow.
Apart from the hedonistic haute couture, the Freak Show acts as a theatrical spectacle? Yes and no. Once the clever visual gimmick subsides, some of the ensemble numbers seem to be unfocused and overly long. Vogueing and posing in an exciting dance-off is a real highlight and shows the undisputed talent of the cast, but elsewhere they do not have much to do.
The self-deprecating comedy segments, played on towering video screens, prevent a descent into total forbearance, but occasionally the satirical characters - including the French Anna Wintour - bring things to an insane and blatant extreme. There is a poignant interlude that shows Gaultier's lover and partner succumbing to AIDS, but the narrative is tarnished by the frivolous characterization to this point.
Gaultier himself appears on screen at the end of the show to express his delight that the long-cherished dream of creating this production has become a reality, and to explain that every skin color and body type has beauty. His feelings are gracious and sincere, but while the cast is racially diverse, they are uniformly slender and conventionally beautiful sacrificial lambs, expressing the French obsession of bald, bare breasts at every opportunity. A willowy white woman in a banana skirt depicting Josephine Baker is also a questionable decision.
After all, Freak Show is a happy sip of whimsical cotton candy - sweet and satisfying, but only for a moment. Go for the couture, not the empty calories.
Jean Paul Gaultier: fashion showQueen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Center, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX. Tickets £ 30-120, up August 2, 2019.
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