Above a transparent box decorated with nuclear warning signs screams the word ‘Quarantine’. Imprisoned inside, Rita Ora begins this leg of the Radioactive Tour, named after her current single, a polished pop-dance nugget with which she opens the show.
Ora may be a hot property, having chalked up three number one singles in 2012 – two solo and one guesting on DJ Fresh anthem ‘Hot Right Now’ – but dangerous is not her shtick.
With the singer dressed in metallic space-opera attire, the effect is more rickety Blake’s 7 than Star Trek reboot, her jerry-built cell lacking a roof, though Ora’s peroxide-blonde locks provide an otherworldly gleam. The futuristic concept is soon stowed away as the box is wheeled off, leaving Ora as the girl brought up two tube stops away who can play at being Rihanna or Beyoncé with a gamine joy. Born in Kosovo and raised in west London, Ora honed her performance skills at the Sylvia Young theatre school before signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2009.
Last year’s chart-topping album, Ora, felt heavily focus-grouped and leads to some jarring changes of tone, from drum and bass club to tender balladry, plus the odd technical hiccup.
Yet having supported both rap star Drake and Coldplay last year before her first headline tour, Ora displays ice-cool composure. “I’m gonna save my emotional shit for later,” she warns, though her natural enthusiasm shines through on some trademark party-starters. ‘Shine Ya Light’ is raised above sub-Rihanna status as Ora rides its lilting reggae rhythm and ‘How We Do (Party)’ proves more celebratory than its Americanised celebration of boozing normally warrants, helped by Ora praising deceased hip hop star Biggie Smalls, whose lyrics provide its lairy chorus.
She is just as engaging when one side of the side of the stage is dressed with a rose-entwined trellis to form her “garden of love”. Sat on a chair she reduces a member of the audience to tears as she croons the limp ‘Hello, Hi, Goodbye’.
Far better comes as she wraps herself around the acoustic, Alicia Keys-style ballad ‘Fair’, which could herald a promising new direction as she sounds underpowered against the demented beats of ‘Facemelt’ and barely believable entering the emotional battleground of ‘Love And War’ with its apocalyptic synths.
Such brain-frying fare is already starting to sound old-hat, but the stage-school trained Ora can rely on more traditional showbiz values to succeed.