CHRISTEENE is not used to such a grandiose palace as the Barbican. But then, of course, the Barbican is not use to such a grandiose statement as CHRISTEENE. The aforementioned, more likely to frequent dive bars and drag clubs, acknowledges this, in her comedy Texan drawl, a half-insane, half-cherry cola scream – as the first words of her performance.
“The pigs have infiltrated the palace tonight!”
Moments before, she’s emerged from the gloom at the back of the stage, our martyr in long red robes. The High Priestess of confrontation, a ripped Turin shroud across her face, everything masked except a trademark aqua eye, some lipstick smeared lips. She stands, high up on a table, long robes reaching the floor, to the pulsing backtrack. Lit from below, we see our heroine cocooned in her scarlet red robes – red, the colour of blood, the colour of anger, yet also – the colour of love. Then in the next moment the lights swing round, CHRISTEENE breaks out of her cocoon, the closing bars of Never Get Old turn into a battle cry, and only then are we invited to the show.
The pigs have most definitely infiltrated the palace, and tonight, we’re in for a special type of slurry. CHRISTEENE is here to perform Sinead O’Connor’s 1987 debut album, The Lion And The Cobra. Later, she will launch into a manifesto of love for O’Connor, pulling out her reasons for this level of mythologizing, twisting it into the self-same poignant life lessons that CHRISTEENE herself brashly champions. Be fragile. Be you. Be a warrior woman. Be here with each other. Find that bird in your throat and feed it, let it fly – because you are amongst friends. Be messy and loud and take up space and destroy, she cannot emphasise this enough, religion. But still, search for love, in all its forms, and surround yourself with it.
It’s a contrast that embodies CHRISTEENE on every level. The essence of punk. Nothing about her existence, or any of this performance, confirms to normality or heteronormativity – even her drag is a rejection of traditional drag’s re-enforcement of femininity. Indeed, CHRISTEENE was born out of terror – her creator, Paul Soileau, says, in the handout: “If it wasn’t for [hurricane] Kartrina, there would be no CHRISTEENE. It makes you realise positive things can come out of awful places and times.”
Tonight, this is CHRISTEENE entirely. She changes on stage, and we catch glimpses of her exposed, as she announces with glee, she’s sporting “things that I have no business wearing”, and even at one point confesses that her trademark arse-less leotard is “just a muscle shirt upside down”, and it’s through these transgressions and exposition that we truly learn what life is about. Because it’s only from the gutter we can look at the stars.
The mind-blowing, immersive experience has its highlights. The contrast of electroclash queen Peaches, head to toe in fetish wear, bathed in white light, as she joins CHRISTEENE for Troy. The duet ends with a rap battle type face off, the two addressing each other rather than the crowd, and bleeds female anger and strength from every pore. Jerusalem has everyone tapping their feet. John Grant, who appears in a fantastic pair of heels, takes on Drink Before The War as a duet, which ends in a passionate kiss because, well, kissing is the best. Right?
In short, CHRISTEENE is the essence of punk. CHRISTEENE is the martyr we need for these climate crisis, dangerously politicised, unlawful-prime-minister dominated times. CHRISTEENE is the light in the darkness. We leave with the memory of seeing her crawling out across the chairs of the Barbican, extending limbs to brush faces – cheeks – arms, to connect – and then – inviting us back for one last dance because shit, if we can’t dance in these terrible times then what the fuck else can we do?