Bernie Dieter brings together a fierce family of cabaret and circus artists, under the Little Death Club, celebrating underground cabaret in the mainstream. Daniel Perks reviews:

Who would have thought that a dick pic was so similar to a naked mole rat? Or that original composition could be comprised primarily of emojis? Bernie Dieter, that’s who. She sings like Marlene Dietrich, like Frank N. Furter, like Kate Bush on speed. Hell is empty, and the devils are in the Little Death Club.

Everything about Little Death Club is saturated with rebelliously anarchic undertones. Compere Dieter walks the stage in a black feathered ensemble, a gothic raven ready to lead proceedings down into the underground. It all makes for a sublime piece of subversion.

And with her come the acts, each of which screams alternative power under a variety of guises. Whether it be a performer who rips apart the stereotype, or one that rebels against the expected, Little Death Club is full to the brim with celebration. Celebration of difference; celebration of that which the Weimar Kabarett began in 20s Berlin; celebration of life lived to its fullest, to its most lustful, with dark-hearted glee.

The acts themselves are technically impressive, if not extraordinary. And that is where Little Death Club falls slightly. Because conceptually it’s exquisite – the balance in which pain and pleasure combine into a heady mix, such that no one cares which is which anymore. But in each individual’s execution, beautifully performed, is the feeling that they are holding back slightly. Jess Love is so cool with her hula hooping act that she strips naked in order to perform her trick properly. It’s intentionally half-hearted and so fucking cool. Every fail is rebellious. But the climax of this needs to be the successful execution of a mind-blowing trick. The result is impressive, but it doesn’t justify the build-up.

The same can be said of Oliver Smith-Wellnitz. His gender fluid trapeze act is graceful and full of clout. It makes a point about stereotyping without saying a word. But it’s also jagged and stutters in the transitions. Technically, it takes the middle ground, afraid to push the form into something creatively unique. For Little Death Club to truly hit home, the show has to practice what it preaches – a celebration of being unique in all aspects.

This may seem like harsh criticism. But when Little Death Club is on form, it’s unbeatable. Myra Dubois sings one half of I Know Him So Well, and in doing nothing brings the house down. Dieter’s opening number takes up 15 minutes of a one-hour show and is the most glorious way to open a cabaret ever witnessed. Barriers between audience and stage aren’t simply brought down, they are smashed apart with the force of a wrecking ball. The conclusion, a dedication to Dieter’s oma (German for grandma) is a folk-inspired fusion of chutzpah and opa, with Romani melodies that demand the audience clap and stomp along. Dieter commands from on high and leads a voluntary furore that epitomises the beauty of individuality.

With fire eating from Kitty Bang Bang and speaking mime from Josh Glanc, the Little Death Club troupe is complete. And they may just be the ultimate combination. Or at least, a powerful combination led by the ultimate ringmistress. With some fine-tuning of the acts, this production has the potential to be a truly subversive, ground-breaking piece of cabaret. It can bring the shadows into the light with the fanfare they deserve.

 

 

★★★★☆

Little Death Club runs at Underbelly Circus Hub as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 until 25 August 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.