Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: 'Little Death Club' at Underbelly Festival, 15th May 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars
Sometimes all you need is fire, sex and alcohol. Bernie Dieter's Little Death Club provides all three in the form of a slick, stylish, satirical and salaciously wonderful 'kabarett' that delights with polished dangerousness.

The core of the show, is Dieter herself, looking every inch the distillation of Weimar style, as if she's wandered off the set of a particularly stylish silent movie. She behaves on stage as if she was born on one, sinuously prowling around on spike-studded heels in a feathered black bodysuit. It's equal parts sexy and scary, and if (to be honest, it's probably when) she turns her gaze to you it's like being frozen in the headlights of an oncoming 18-wheeler.

Though there's a warning on the door about fire being used in the show, the real danger comes as Dieter casts her gaze around the audience and finds unsuspecting men to single out and charm. Ordinarily, I'd say if you're shy and awkward stay away from the front row, but here even hiding in the back rows isn't necessarily a defence (as the guy who ended up with her crotch being ground in his face discovered).

For me, the thrill at being prey to a predatory performer is exciting, fun and has provided some of my favourite experiences in theatre over the years. So when I was inevitably singled out for during a song punctuated by yells of "EAT MY PUSSY!" I enjoyed the hell out of that adrenaline rush. 

But though this is very much Dieter's show, she's also the Professor X to a wonderfully weird collection of misfits. These include wonderfully gloomy mime Josh Glanc, who bemoans the lack of reality inherent to his art, wishing that one day the box he could escape from would be a real one. We enjoy Myra DuBois: "The Songbird of South Yorkshire", a classic drag queen who I don't think it's possible to not find funny.

Then there's an extraordinary fire show from Kitty Bang Bang. This begins promisingly, with two assistants quietly appearing near the front of the stage with blankets, presumably to put her out if she ignites. I've seen a whole bunch of fire performances before, but what she does here beyond my understanding. I know the basic rules of how these acts work - that heat and flame travel upward and so on. But fire is hot - there is no trick that makes fire not hot. So I have absolutely no idea how she manages to stand with flames flickering from her lips without burning herself. Maybe she really is a mutant?

Similarly mesmeric is Beau Sargent's contortion and acrobatics act. Sargeant has one of the most beautiful bodies I've seen on stage, his fat-free musculature making him appear as a streamlined art deco sculpture. There's a simmering sexual androgyny in the way he writhes and twists, eventually spinning high above us in precise whirls from a hoop. It's breathtaking stuff.

But my fave thing in the night was Fancy Chance's dream-like hair suspension act. I've seen a bunch of these before and while they're impressive, seeing someone simply gracefully enduring pain just isn't enough. But Fancy Chance provides that something else with an outright beautiful routine based around a flowing dress with wings. Here she swoops, glides and soars above the audience, the breeze created by her wings gently buffetting our faces. This is all soundtracked to a bass-heavy song that slaps extremely hard. It also has an incredible final flourish that I will not spoil here. When I look back on this show, I feel it'll be her act that lodges firmly in the mind.

Towards the end of the show we get a moment of insight and perspective. Dieter reminds us that the original Weimar cabaret (and indeed, the Weimar Republic itself) was squashed by the rise of fascists. She talks of the increasingly scary world beyond the confines of this tent - hinting that history may be repeating itself. 

But if the world really is ending, I can't think of any party I'd rather be at than this one. Little Death Club is one hell of an hour's entertainment - worth the price of admission many times over. 

Little Death Club is at Udderbelly Festival until 23 June.

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