Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Write Club Day 15: Don't put your daughter on the (Circus) Stage

I have had a few days now to digest the spectacle that was the Britney Spears Circus Tour. I am glad that I went, I had a really enjoyable time and I was priviledged to have such good seats. You can sense the but though, can't you?
Let me talk you through the show. This part of my review contains spoilers. For those who haven't seen the show yet and don't want to know its contents -STOP READING NOW! Let's start with the venue. I have never been to the O2 before. I am impressed that the owners of the converted Greenwich dome have turned this massive hulk of a marquee into a venue that provides us punters with what we want, which is big name music gigs, and not another exhibition centre. As we walked up to the entrance, we saw the much-hailed 'Circus' in full flow. Clowns, gymnasts, a carousel, lots of people madly taking photos (why?!) and everyone seemingly enjoying the atmosphere (and it was a dreadful day weather-wise so I applaud the entertainers for doing their utmost to distract us from the darkening sky). So far, so Circus. Once inside however, the O2 becomes more about advertising and visual pickpocketing than it is about Britney. The O2 owners want their pay-off and aren't afraid to be extremely mercenary in taking the attendees for all they have. Huge escalators, all types of restaurant food, punters queueing in 100 person-long queues to access their cash, before the O2 staff can get their sticky hands on it. And the service did not come with a smile! It took us ten minutes alone to walk to our gate, and once we entered the stage arena, after the inital glee that anyone feels once they walk into a theatre full of babbling fans, we realised that actually its pretty small. But this wasn't about popcorn at hugely over-inflated prices and sticky floors, we were here to see the artistes perform! Bring on the show.

The stage consisted of a big purple circle with a smaller pink circle attached on either side, bathed in disco cotton-candy coloured light. I was 15 rows from the front, and from our spot you could see the whole arena, they were great seats. I could also see the infamous Love Booths, which literally are right by the stage. Guests can pay upwards of £1000 to snuggle with their nearest and dearest watching the beloved Ms Spears practically face-to-face. I silently shivered and took my seat. The venue seemed half full, when the lights went down, but the music was pumped up and a pink curtain gracefully fell from above. Then it was curtain up and Ciara, as opening act, strutted around the stage. She was stunning, Like a 6 foot lioness clad in the Noughties equivalent of Cher's If I could Turn Back Time costume (you know the one, an all-in-one black and silver sparkly body-stocking) with a silvery snake design slivering up her thigh and glinting in the stage lights. Ciara was on fire. Lets face it, she hasn't had that many hits, but she more than makes up for it by some limber moves that the circus gymnasts would be proud of. The theme was a little bit sado-masochist, but Ciara and her four female dancers (one of whom had the most amazingly big taut derriere that I spent half a song watching alone) did their very best. Their best was not good enough to fill the venue though. Ciara chatted with the audience a little, trying to raise the temperature, and she did seem to sing at least the first few lines of her songs, but miming was a feature of her set.
Once Ciara exited below stage, the lights came up again and we waited patiently for Britters to appear. The management may have cleverly staged the show so that Britney doesn't actually have to be on stage for very long at all. Meanwhile we were treated to some phenomenal circus acts, including a girl who could hula hoop like noone I've seen before together with some semi-naked male ripped gymnasts who jumped around on boxes, hoops and with swords, and a truly breathtaking gymnast who would flip herself up into the air and land perfectly on a foot-wide platform held aloft by her macho assistants. Plus some clowns and a dwarf, how very PC.... The lights went down again. People were still entering the arena, and at the cost of these tickets you would have thought they may not have left it quite so late to make their entrance. I was starting to think the same thing about Ms Spears' entrance when an enormous purple curtain was drawn around the stage. At last! The music started playing, and the curtain turned into a video screen where we saw the 'Queen' Perez Hilton's dramatic opening monologue, which was fun, and killed a few more minutes, but COME ON! Then curtain up and like a beautiful bleached blonde goddess Britney Jean Spears appeared sitting in a silver hoop dangling from above. Now for the crunch. Alas, it will not take me long to dissect the performance. Britney looked great, she danced like a pro, she seems to have a fixation with wearing a belt around her pretty flat stomach at all times (thanks to the British press for generating some unneeded paranoia there) but I was most definitely entertained. The set pieces were great and the message was pretty clear (you want a piece of me, this is a freak show, I hate the press, I'm not crazy etc etc). Now for the part I wish I could write. 'Britney was sparkling. She chatted with the audience between each song, she looked happy and down-to-earth, she was buoyant and put her heart and soul into doing what she was born to do, sing to her fans. I was visibly moved. Reports of her deterioration into a dead-behind-the-eyes robotic barbie were wildly misconceived. I had a wonderful time' But this JUST WASN'T TRUE. The bottom line is: She mimed in every song, she followed choreograhy to the letter but she never truly engaged. She was barely on the stage for more than 3 minutes at a time and then was under the stage for 10 minutes between tracks. She did a marvellous job when miming 'Circus', taking part in some magic tricks whilst 'singing'. She most certainly entertained. But all she said was 'Whassup London!' and then pretended to sing a ballard, when she was possibly miming some more. There was also a frigteningly adult S&M content mid-way through, which wasn't good for the younger fans and exploitative of Britney herself.
I have to admit that I didn't even stay for the Womanizer finale। Britney Spears does an awful lot of preaching yet minimal practising. The media, her fans, even those like me who just had an opportunity to see her live, really want her to be successful and happy. Not since Princess Diana have people engaged with someone in the public eye who seems so lost and fragile. But, if Britney wants us to believe that she isn't a Music industry robot making dollars for unknown bigwigs at the expense of her sanity, then she is failing. Give your fans what they want Britney, which is just you singing live, engaging with those who have paid hundreds of pounds to see you. No dancers, no fireworks, no distractions and I think even you, Britney, could do without the circus.

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