sun 09/08/2020

Madonna, London Palladium review - a fiesta of the surreal and the fiercely fabulous | reviews, news & interviews

Madonna, London Palladium review - a fiesta of the surreal and the fiercely fabulous

Madonna, London Palladium review - a fiesta of the surreal and the fiercely fabulous

An intimate evening of surreal new sounds and fado fun - family and friends invited

The first time I heard Madonna, I was 8 years old at a school disco. Horrified parents, who came to pick us up as we jumped up and down yelling along to “Like A Virgin” in a fluorescent flurry of topknots, puffer skirts and lace gloves, subsequently lodged a formal complaint (it was a Catholic junior school) and thus, the spirit of Madonna, was borne into my story. Since those days of stonewash and crimping only one thing has remained consistent in my life – Madge’s persistent ability to re-invent herself. Now, 30 years later, I am bearing witness to a conglomeration of her identities, thriving as readily as the coronavirus and here emerging in one surreal fiesta at the London Palladium.

Madame X at the London PalladiumJames Baldwin’s quote – “Art is here to prove that all safety is an illusion” – opens the show, before Madonna, dressed in the style of the French Revolution, performs “Wake Up” to projections of Catholic religion and ritual, alongside a string quartet dressed as nuns. It – alongside many of the songs from Madame X, of which the show is largely comprised – felt a little bit bonkers to listen to just on audio, but brought to life, here on a West End stage, surrounded by the most flamboyant and excellent dancers, seems to make more sense.

There are some old school classics in the set: “Express Yourself”, sees her kids onto the stage singing the “I’m Not Your Bitch” mix, and ending with a feisty “have we made ourselves clear?” Stella delivering a #TimesUp message is followed by everyone wishing Mercy a happy birthday with a celebratory round of acapella advice: “don’t go for second best, baby” that we all join in with.

Madonna performs “Vogue” to her adoring audience, channelling Jimmy Dean and Grace Kelly, as ever, at once Aphrodite and Dionysus, and later “La Isla Bonita” births some ecstatic grooves. A lone Madonna plus piano version of “Frozen” sees the singer sat behind a giant screen of her daughter Lourdes, doing a contemporary dance solo, whirling and swirling in leather-look leg warmers.

Taking inspiration from her stay in Lisbon (where she’s been soccer-mom-ing for the past 3 years) the stage becomes a Portuguese street scene of blue and yellow tiles, satin clad dancers doing cha-cha-cha steps and wandering musicians. The rhythms and ambiance of fado clubs feel comfortable, casual and eclectic – a smart fit for Madonna.

As well as bringing her family onto the stage, she is joined by the Batukadera's of Cabo Verde, a group of women condemned by the church for playing their drums, but here ululating and hallelujah-ing with wild joy and abandon.

The Batukadera's of Cabo VerdeNone of this can be captured for Insta-purposes, however, as we’ve had to lockdown our mobiles on the way into the theatre, so that Madonna can see our beautiful faces, quipping that the eyes are the mirrors of the soul – but also joking “why is no one taking my picture? I am not used to this.” And part of me is glad, that we’re not all watching what unfolds behind our video screens. There’s something about being present, experiencing the legend of Madonna, as she sits confidently with her legs wide, as classical music blasts, teasing: “This is what it’s like to have Mozart come out of my pussy” – witnessing the mesmerising balance of this icon, over 60 but ever in control, ever sashaying along the knife’s edge between self-perceptive and narcissistic with a sly, dry wit that is so unique.

There are more opportunities to gaze into Madge’s eyes than usual, in this intimate theatre space, where she comes into the audience, sipping some guy’s “warm salty beer”, teasing him gently about being shy, or auctioning off a polaroid selfie for charity – before getting back on with the show lest the nine-ton iron curtain imposed by Westminster Council come crashing down before her curfew. It is, as she puts it: “an intervention not an intermission”. Alluding, perhaps to the attention Madame X is drawing to global political and environmental crises. She refers to her manifesto, in which she is “a teacher, a student, a mother, a child, a nun, a singer, a saint and a whore” – her arsenal of identities all recognisable from over the years.

Madame X at the London PalladiumThere are the inevitable Brexit gags and jokes about men with small penises that revolve around Donald Trump. But amidst the fado fun, I begin to wonder if the X in her Madame doesn’t lean towards the same sign in Extinction Rebellion. Her velvety voice purrs into the mic: “Not everyone is coming to the future, because not everyone is listening to the past”, and then “I Rise” is performed before a video montage of forest fires and gas masks, Emma Gonzalez’s gun crime speech, gun violence and refugee children. It finishes with a rabble rousing chorus and everyone pounding their fists in the air (on stage and in the audience) united in front of a rainbow flag.

Madonna has always celebrated the value and freedom of difference, by way of both political and cultural transformation. She played a part in shifting power from masculine to feminine, so it seems right that her intentions are winding everyone up to point them, marching in a new and important direction. It’s her ability to do so alongside the glitterballs, gospel chorus and dancing in the aisles for “Like a Prayer” that results in the kind of euphoria that only Madonna can deliver – a promise that whether you’re doing the same thing in 30 years or something spectacularly new, there’s always the possibility that it might just be the best version yet.

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