EMILIE AUTUMN – live and unleashed at Manchester’s Ritz

EMILIE AUTUMN is a powerhouse of hands-on creativity and career ambition. On meeting her backstage before her Manchester Ritz show, this observation is quickly confirmed. She’s been through a lot personally, and she describes to us her turning point in life and her reasons for moving forwards through adverse circumstances to build a life “from scratch” which she is now proud of and fiercely protects. She’s also sensibly chosen a fantastic manager she works closely with to achieve her goals. One such goal is the 3-hour musical that she’s aiming to fire at London’s West End towards the end of next year. High ambitions indeed, and we love her for them. I was at the Camden show where she announced the musical based on her autobiographical fantasy novel “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” – the announcement in itself took guts and enormous self-belief. Autumn is now in the middle of preparing the musical, and the show we’re going to see tonight is pretty much one-third of the final product, we are told.

As we enter the venue which is now being prepared for tonight’s show, we see a large metal gated structure in the centre of the stage, indicative of a memorable performance that is about to hit the city. Clashing unfortunately with Manchester Pride, what would easily have been a sold-out show still comfortably boasts a large queue of fans gathering from early in the afternoon, eventually stretching past the corner of the block and with a large number of devoted and suitably attired EA admirers. So much detailed effort has been put into the Victorian-Gothic costuming – a true homage to the woman who has inspired them. We bump into Maggie Lally (aka Captain Maggot, barely recognisable but equally adorable in her day-to-day clothes) at the merch desk, and she beams a warm smile to us. You get the feeling that the EA team is tight and packed with openness and support – a family of sorts.

The lengthy retro music intro is greeted by incessant clapping and whooping under the dimmed lighting. The onstage structure is now adorned with a large clock and the sign “BEWARE OF ESCAPED INMATES.” To a blast of screams, EA eventually appears through the metal gate, sporting her new mohawk (The backstory: This impressive headpiece was hand-made by Autumn herself within a matter of days, and we were fortunate enough to nab the first ever photos of Emilie in her new headgear on the day of the show.). Tour title track “Fight Like A Girl (aka FLAG)” opens the show as EA and her right-hand women Captain Maggot and Naughty Veronica take over the stage, and behold the theatrics begin.

The explosive “Time for Tea” then draws us headlong into the melodrama: “Hatchet… Check! / Scalpel… Check! / Electroshock Machine… Check! / It’s time for war! / It’s time for blood! / It’s time for TEA! / … Revenge is a dish that is best served…NOW!”

When her mohawk is finally torn off by her Crumpets, and Autumn is left to flail around in mock despair, one of the Plague Rat fans shouts out, “It’s ok, Emilie! You can have mine!” and you have the feeling her PRs would go a long way to keep their idol happy and safe. Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between Autumn and her fans is one of the most fascinating aspects of an EA show.

With costume changes and song after song moving between energetic-risqué and sombre-melancholy, the audience is kept constantly on their toes – rat claws at the ready, they’re engrossed from beginning to end. Autumn is an impressive force, never afraid to flip gender roles and extreme characters, to explore sensualities and passions, to keep challenging her audience and herself with alternating perceptions and emotions. She’s a rare phenomenon, constantly evolving and pushing herself, and this is why she’s so loved.

Taking the opportunity to acknowledge the adoration of her PRs, Autumn makes a touching speech of thanks: “If this had not been my life, I’d not have a story to tell, and we’d never had met, and for that I have no regrets.” She then goes on to say that she was excited to see people wearing colourful costumes in the streets of Manchester earlier in the day, only later to realise that it was Pride weekend: “That should be every day!” she proclaims, to squeals of support. She completes her words of gratitude with a rousing statement: “You have given me a home to go to. This is just the beginning and this belongs to you… you have always had the key to the asylum!” EA and the crumpets end with faux fistycuffs and a kiss – the perfect way to close this special girl fight night.