What could be more Christmassy than pole-dancing nuns and lewd acts on the table of The Last Supper?
Oh, and ear-chomping boxer turned rapist Mike Tyson?
It could only mean one thing – singing superstar Madonna was in town and as provocative as ever, even at the age of 57.
A snarling Tyson appeared on a giant screen during the introduction to opening song Iconic, controversially declaring: ‘‘I’m somebody… I am beautiful.’’
Then lapsed Catholic Madonna began exploring the juxtaposition of sexuality and religion, which has been a familiar theme throughout her long career.
During the X-rated Holy Water, dancers in nuns’ habits and white frilly knickers gyrated on giant crucifixes, with Madonna defying her age by also giving us a twirl.
After that, Madonna provoked the Vatican some more in a sinful re-enactment of The Last Supper with 12 of her dancers, in which she appeared to be the dessert course.
Fans paid up to £200 for face value tickets for the sold-out show and got closer to their idol than ever before thanks to a runway shaped like a bow firing a heart-tipped arrow.
They had an anxious wait after a technical fault delayed the start of Madonna’s Manchester show on Monday by an hour, with the star having to cut her two-hour long set short.
Thankfully, the undisputed world champion of pop was on time in Brum and made a typically dramatic entrance, descending from the arena’s rooftop in a medieval spiked cage.
Strumming an electric guitar on her knees, Madonna turned back the clock for a rock version of Burning Up, her second single from before she was famous 32 years ago.
The stage was transformed into a garage for Body Shop and Madonna played the ukulele for a charming True Blue and a cover of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose.
In a jaw-dropping climax to Heart Break City, a jilted Madonna pushed her undeserving lover off the top of a spiral staircase. ‘‘Nobody f***s with the queen,’’ she yelled.
For fan favourite Music, Madonna turned flapper in a 1920s routine which featured a topless female dancer, while for Unapologetic Bitch she danced with a young friend of her son – and spanked him.
The loudest cheer of the night came during Living for Love when Madonna managed to unclip her cape, unlike at this year’s Brits when she was yanked down some steps.
She was showcasing her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, which explores her romantic and her rebellious sides in an array of genres including house, reggae, rap and gospel.
It’s Madonna’s least successful album and, unlucky for some in the arena, she chose to perform nine of its tracks, while another three were played during video interludes.
But Madonna kept fairweather fans happy with refreshed versions of a bunch of her biggest hits from the 80s, including La Isla Bonita, Material Girl and a joyous Like A Prayer.
There was an over-reliance on backing tracks for some of the more elaborately staged numbers, but when they pace was slowed Madonna proved how underrated she is as a singer.
Wrapped in a Union Flag, she ended the show with an energetic rendition of Holiday before being whisked away on a circus trapeze with barely enough time to wave goodbye.
It was a crowd-pleasing end to a dazzling show – and much more appropriate for the holiday season than some of her routines earlier in the evening.
Whatever you think of Madonna, you can’t deny that she’s worked tirelessly for her success and is the consummate professional, always putting on one hell of a show.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest ‘wow’ moment came when several dancers were strapped to the top of tall poles which swayed and bent at unfathomable angles above the audience.
But for all the theatrics, Madonna was most captivating when she was alone on the runway, singing Like A Virgin and Rebel Heart, two songs from opposite ends of her career.
Bitch I’m Madonna
Holy Water / Vogue
Deeper and Deeper
Heart Break City / Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
Like a Virgin
Living for Love
La Isla Bonita
Dress You Up / Into the Groove / Lucky Star
Like A Prayer
La Vie En Rose
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