Red Bastard will be appearing at the Vaults until 22 February.

Red Bastard will be appearing at the Vaults until 22 February.

People talk about the politics of fear. They talk about the economics of fear. But few really talk about fear as the ultimate stage device. A device that forces the audience to look both around the room and within themselves. One that instils a psychological and, in Red Bastard, not entirely unfounded terror of being physically, mentally or sexually violated within the confines of a well-lit and cosy theatre space.

Red Bastard – both the show and the character – are outsize, outlandish and a real challenge. Not just to those who have led cloistered lives in some Surrey nunnery but to hardened Londoners, most of whom take on the capital’s brutal and brutalising transport system twice a day, five days a week with barely a murmur.

Sure, he looks like fun. Born in rural Kansas, Eric Davis’ Red Bastard has a cheeky grin and a charismatic manner that many politicians would leave their favourite mistress for. Together with his camp ways and buffoonish outfit, these attributes go some way to lowering one’s guard – how seriously can we treat someone in a red leotard with a booty shaped like J-Lo’s squared and a huge balloon shoved up the front?

That would be a mistake to make in the company of this arch manipulator. Even Italian mothers could learn something from the way the Bastard twists the audience this way and that with carrots, sticks and then more sticks. Simple counting and stretching exercises to limber us up from brain to bunion turn into more sinister routines, designed to push us far beyond the comfort zone. Before long, we are admitting the most ardent ambitions and annoyances are being aired, cuties in the audience are being eyed up and we’re all finding out way more than we really want or need to know about the strangers around us. Emphasis on “strange”.

The Bastard goes beyond naked provocation and bizarre instructions to produce something altogether more beautiful. For those of us who commit the daily sins of social apathy and indifference to our fellow man, there’s an epiphany of sorts here in realising that, like us, everyone has stories, everyone has dreams and everyone has someone in their life that completely fucks them off. Red Bastard crosses stage genres like a drunken jaywalker and discombobulates with disconcerting ease but by the end of this must-see show, one thing is stunningly clear: none of us are in Kansas anymore.

Red Bastard. The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo. £16.50. Until 22 February.