When the creative force behind some of the most storied spectacles of the late 20th and early 21st century puts his name to a consumer entertainment vehicle, the bar is set pretty high. But such is the genius – as well as the optimism and charm – of Jean Paul Gaultier that his Fashion Freak Show more than clears it.
Sumptuous and enthralling, Gaultier has created 100 costumes to form 400 outfits on a cast of 18 performers – singers, dancers, circus performers – each at the top of their game. Yet whilst it is without question a feast of aesthetic glory, Monsieur Gaultier’s show – co-directed with Tonie Marshall with musical arrangement and orchestration by the legendary Nile Rogers – also tells a beautiful, simple and uplifting story of a different and very special boy who found his place in the world.
Combining cabaret elements with almost stadium rock level projections and the very best of super-club ambience (even if the crowd remains relatively sedate and seated), Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show is fundamentally a biographical musical meets artistic retrospective. We start at the beginning, via film featuring Almodóvar super-star Rossy de Palma as the future design legend’s teacher attempting to humiliate the boy for sketching in class (depicted in a highly stylised way, of course). But, in so many ways, Gaultier is extraordinary. The attempted bullying fails because peers immediately spot his talent and crave his drawings and other creative output. From the get-go, it’s reassuring that this theatrical experience will, rather unpredictably for a high fashion icon, be one of triumph and encouragement rather than angst and anguish.
Various musical numbers, ranging from torch song arrangements sung by Haylen to extravagant, up-tempo dance pieces choreographed by Marion Motin, take us through time and place in a linear sequence. The visualisation of the era with Pierre Cardin is particularly stunning as are so many other tableaux that follow – with vignettes including punk, Paris’ Palace nightclub and the underbelly of 80s Soho, amongst others.
Whilst Freak Show is predominantly about visual and aural sensation, it also has soul and pathos. Gaultier masterfully tells the story of falling in love by showing us a double-size iconic Breton jersey worn together by him and his partner, joined and cosseted in a single garment. When the AIDS epidemic emerges in a future scene and voices within the nightclub ask ‘Ou est Patrick? Ou est…?’ it is with the lightest, but most affecting, of touches that we share grief through the simple image of the double jumper now occupied by one: beautiful and heart-breaking.
Uplifting and visually glorious, this ‘freak show’ is also just plain old fun. It is profoundly sexy but not for one second tacky, even if playful and decidedly not highbrow. Explicit in its celebration of diverse expressions of beauty, the show never even skirts tokenism or finger-wagging. On one hand, it’s like going to a blockbuster art exhibition in which all the work comes to you (perfect for the tired feet of the Gen-Xers who grew up with JPG). On the other hand, it offers every impulse and imperative to dance and no one will stop you – so get your freak on. As the maestro himself exhorts, ‘Embrace your freak. Le freak, c’est chic.’
If you grew up with Jean Paul Gaultier, treat yourself to something both historically rewarding but absolutely future-facing. If the era of Eurotrash or the first masculine haute-couture presentations featuring men in skirts pre-dates you, enrich yourself with the story and style of the man without whom there would be no Alexander McQueen or Harry Styles. A true treat and excellent value for money, Fashion Freak Show will profit and delight you.
Review by Mary Beer
The production, an explosive combination of revue and fashion show, depicts the sensational life of Jean Paul Gaultier against a backdrop of his generation’s most defining political and cultural changes. The iconic music – from Disco to Funk, from Pop to Rock and New Wave and Punk – boasts a playlist of hits that have inspired the artist throughout his life.
TEG MJR in association with TS3
(A Fimalac Entertainment Company)
and RGM Productions and
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER FASHION FREAK SHOW
Chalk Farm Road
London, NW1 8EH
PERFORMANCE DATES & SCHEDULE
Friday 15 July – Sunday 28 August 2022