O2 Arena, London
3 out of 5
Britney Spears' live show opens with the unlovely face of blogger Perez Hilton looming down from the video screens: in keeping with the tour's circus theme, he's dressed as the legendary 16th-century trapeze artist Queen Elizabeth I.
The starring role for Hilton seems to confirm the central point about Spears' first world tour since 2004: it's not really about music, it's about gossip.
The audience can't possibly have turned up in order to hear her greatest hits sung live, given that everyone seems to accept that Spears isn't singing live - certainly there are moments when Spears could no more obviously be miming were she wearing white face make-up and pretending to walk against the wind.
Instead, they've presumably paid for the rubberneck value of being in the same, albeit huge, room as the woman who, in the five years since she last performed in London, went from America's sweetheart to being removed from her house strapped to a gurney while the world's media gawped. The soundtrack - mostly drawn from her last two albums, which means it's big on distorted synthesizers, auto-tuned vocals and songs telling the press to get stuffed - is virtually besides the point.
Alternatively, they might have coughed up in order to see a grand spectacle, in which case, they certainly get their money's worth: there are men doing aerial acrobatics in gimp masks, martial artists, a mock striptease and magician who saws Spears in half.
The costumes are pretty skimpy and there's nowhere the set designers haven't contrived to put a pole for her to gyrate around. And yet there's something unsexy about all of it, possibly because there's something weirdly characterless about the woman at its centre: you'd happily trade some of the special effects for the sense of Spears actually engaging with her audience rather than slickly going through the motions.
Still, you might reasonably argue that in recent years, Spears was characterful enough to last anyone a lifetime: maybe antiseptic normality is precisely what she's setting out to project.