Has Robbie Williams got religion? Or scientology? Or has he started his own cult? The esoteric neon symbols floating above the round stage, decorated like the stargate in Stargate, and large-scale projections of skeletons being crucified evoke a quasi-religious feel.
Team that with the spiritual vibes of “Angels” and “Feel”, not to mention the “Bodies” chorus: “Jesus really died for me” - with Robbie triumphantly prancing from a pulpit to a giant crown, fresh off the back of his chart-topping success with new album Take the Crown with a flaming stained-glass window hovering behind him... you start to feel that maybe he’s trying to tell us something about a religious awakening.
If Williams is a cult leader, he could convince a lot of people to drink the Kool Aid. With one declaration: “Remember the way we used to do it? I want to see your fingers” a writhing sea of flesh-coloured anemones sprouts around him, fingers waggling to the tune of “Millennium”, as glitterballs in the shape of his head dance above. Someone throws a black thong, which he twirls round a finger. He alters the lyrics, “take the piss to numb the pain” shouted with laddish posturing and savage defiance.
Even though, fleetingly, it feels like things haven’t changed since “Millennium” was a hit over a decade ago, Robbie has mellowed with the years. A tender rendition of "Mr. Bojangles”, with Guy Chambers on piano, who he fell out with in 2002, a few fond words about Gary Barlow, plus a reminder that he’s now a dad - he dedicates a lovely slow-paced rendition of “Angels” to his two-month-old baby - shows a certain maturity.
Williams describes us as his “test audience” for tunes like “Candy”, his latest number one, and “Not like the Others” a defiant assertion of his pop primacy, he skims over 2006 album Rudebox, with a mocking reference to its lack of commercial success (“I personally think [it] was a work of underrated genius”) moving straight on to less recent history. “Kids” is uplifting, but doesn’t have the same magic without Kylie’s chemistry, while “Rock DJ” is undeniably catchy.
We soon discover the cheeky chappie from Take That hasn’t disappeared either. Spontaneous bursts of tap dancing, crotch-thrusting, bum-shaking, jokes about the Queen, carry-on style gags about sleeping with “girls on the game”, could form an entire show by themselves without any singing needed.
Attending to the edge of the round podium, is, in his words “pleasuring the rim”; a true entertainer, he treads a fine line between cheeky and offensive, like a racier version of Bruce Forsyth.