26th Oct-6th Jan 2024
26 October, 2023
all images © TNC
My first year at Edinburgh Fringe was the year I got introduced to EastEnd Cabaret and the incomparable award-winning duo Bernie Dieter and Victor Victoria. You could tell, even back then, that there was something special, original, and unique about Dieter. She’s someone who has taken cabaret, performance, and what this art form stands for seriously, and thus she gives it everything. From Dirty Talk (2013) to YETI (2016), EastEnd Cabaret created some of the best cabarets on the Fringe circuit and played an essential part in reinvigorating the public's love affair with cabarets. Since these early shows, Bernie Dieter has gone on to create Club Kabarett, which itself has gained rave reviews and sold out runs.
As tonight was the opening of Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett and the beginning of their residency at newly minted Underbelly Boulevard, you could feel the anticipation from the audience. It’s the type of feeling you get when you are certain that the show is going to be something special, but you still can’t relax as the anticipation grows. Then the music stops, no more Der Kommissar from Falco, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief as Ms. Dieter, the self-described Mistress of Mayhem, makes her debut appearance on the Underbelly Boulevard stage. The rest seemed like a dream.
With all the noise happening around the world, which is suffocating, it has become hard for us to find a moment to just relax and, most of all, to centre ourselves. Cabaret always conjures up Christopher Isherwood, 1930s Berlin, Bob Fosse, and, of course, “Sally Bowles”. We tend to be drawn to cabarets because of what they represent for audiences and performers alike. It is freedom. It is the exploration of expression, of love, and of building connections. It’s about celebrating the type of intimacy and self that can only be appreciated in a space where "punks, freaks, and weirdos” can come together and face no judgement.
Cabaret is unashamedly about identifying with that unique creative part of oneself that allows you to find an unimaginable sense of freedom. Dieter manages to inject something otherworldly when she performs. And though there are elements of naughtiness, it’s easy to look past these moments of sexual tension and delicious innuendoes and humour to see a show and its lead performer having fun. They also lack the ability to hide the fact that there is a huge amount of heart in this production, which itself creates a resounding and uplifting message. Dieter is unlike anyone you’ve counted before as an emcee. Dieter has a duty to keep the show flowing, keep the punters engaged, and set the tone for the show. She’s brash and the type of person who is on the periphery of vulgarity but never gives you what you really want. This holding back seems to be an extra tease towards her audience that only draws you closer to her.
"...Dieter shows no signs of apprehensions in opening herself in this way, again allowing her audiences to see a type of vulnerability that they hadn’t known was present."
Dieter as a performer is the personification of class, skill, confidence, beauty, and fragility. There is a generosity in the way this show unfolds that allows you to connect with this family of performers Dieter has assembled for Club Kabarett; it is also beautiful proof of what you can get when you have true Freiheit. Dieter is the mother, the ringmaster, the pied piper, who has taken this show from city to city and country to country, and along the way, it's become a beacon of hope for those tired of the confines of normality. She offers hope for both her audiences and kids alike.
Club Kabarett’s Haus Band, made up of Bella Diosa, Mark Elton, Frankie South, and Laura Williams, adds depth and some of the finest musical touches of class to the proceedings that further uplift the show. And much like the performers, the musicians equally maintain this travelling family-cum-circus vibe that is wondrous to watch. Early on, you can see how important this collaborative performance really is. It’s not Dieter’s alone, and you’re not there to just see Dieter; you’ve come to be bewildered by one of the greatest cabaret artists on the circuit.
This is further explored with Club Kabarett’s performers, Adam Malone, Blue Phoenix, and The Seifert Sisters, the latter performing a breathtaking routine to Moderat's "New Error". This power in each performance is found in the way they have created something that makes the stage seem far bigger than what it is; it’s almost a strange illusion. They draw you into this otherworldly experience in which things are bigger, wilder, and bolder. Step outside and into reality for just a second, and you begin to see the impossibility of what they’ve been able to create.
And with most shows, there comes a moment, or the moment, in which everything that has been unsaid—the pulsating passion behind the creative mind of Club Kabarett—is unpacked for the audience. This moment comes when aerialist Joe Keeley walks onto the stage. As the lights shine an icy blue, with Dieter rejoining the Haus band, Keeley stands there for a moment, and you could feel his heart beating. In thinking back to this moment, it all seems like it was all in slow motion, and the second Dieter started to sing, a wave of emotion overtook you. Within the first verse of "Cracks in the Mirror," Dieter delicately and honestly lets her audience know what this show was all about. The emotion within this song is raw, brutally honest, and resoundingly personal, and Dieter shows no signs of apprehensions in opening herself in this way, again allowing her audiences to see a type of vulnerability that they hadn’t known was present.
“Cracks in the Mirror” is a song that becomes something very special between Dieter and Keeley. One felt as though she was singing directly to Keeley, with Keeley performing solely for her. One truly feels the opening lyrics You’re staring back at me / Is this the woman that you thought you’d grow up to be? / Wipe that paint off your face / It’s time to loose that monster from its hiding place. This is another of these moments Dieter has managed to create that plays with scope as you watch the synchronous relationship between Keeley and Dieter develop. It would be hard to find any other single moment in theatre that has the level of heart and love as this moment had; nothing prepares you for seeing it, and nothing prepares you for the feelings it leaves you with. Keeley and Dieter personify the power of cabaret with this performance, and it will be something I am not likely to forget anytime soon.
There is no better home for Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett other than Underbelly Boulevard, Soho, and it goes without saying that Bernie Dieter is in a class all on her own; few cabarets can ever match her vision, creative insight, and wonderment.