Having been fortunate enough to see the vast majority of headline shows that Underbelly’s programmed in the 11 years since they set up shop on the Southbank, I’m confident that Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club offers one of the most luxurious cabaret line-ups that the Spiegeltent’s ever had.
This hour-long throwback to the Weimar Republic ‘Kabarett’ underworld is about as subversive and unruly (and as a result, frequently electrifying) as you can expect from a mainstream venue a hop away from the Festival Hall. And distinguishes itself even from long-running – and larger-budget – favourites like La Clique (whom the mistress of cermonies, oozing in experience and poise, is alumni of) due to the nigh-unwavering consistency of its acts to astound, deliver and push disciplines that you may well have seen before further – to something which feels as new and mystifying as the first time you experienced them.
In the driving seat, Dieter manages to be punky, elegant and a campy fusion of James’ Giant Peach’s Spiker and Sponge all at once. Bookending Little Death Club with bawdy original music and lyrics (including one where unsolicited dick pics she’s received find a whole new audience), she’s as reliable an MC as they come to look after both her audience, and her acts. Press night crowd was a relatively polite one, but I’d love to see her handle a heckler. Something tells me she’d be pretty good at it.
In between, we’re treated to exhilarating solo performances from Myra DuBois (with an act I’ve probably seen her do 15 times before but still makes me howl), Fancy Chance (with her famous hair-hanging mindf%ck – again, it’s definitely not the first time I’ve seen it but I can’t mark them down for that) and Kitty Bang Bang, who I genuinely believe is the best burlesque performer London’s got. She first blew my mind with a bin/Pink Panther act at Madame Jojo’s in 2011 (I think), but the fire burlesque showcased here really is honed to perfection, mesmerising and as good as it (surely) gets.
The highlight of my night came, though, from a performance I’ve not seen before – a stunning aerial hoop routine by Beau Sargent that made every hair on the back of neck stand up. I could go on about it for ages, but in a nutshell: I don’t remember seeing anything quite so dynamic, well-choreographed and crowd-pleasing performed on that apparatus. Sargent’s ballet training and contortion background is evident and utilised superbly, and if anything, I wish the show’s format had allowed him to come back for a second number (on net, for example).
My only qualm with Little Death Club would be its super-linear structure (ie. every act being given an individual slot, and never coming into contact with another until an unchoreographed and slightly hasty curtain call). I would’ve loved just a couple of group or full ensemble numbers, chances to see the different skillsets utilised in combination with each other.
That aside, Underbelly’s first Spiegeltent headliner of the summer really does offer a line-up at the top of their respective games. Little Death Club is cabaret infused with quality, experience and – naturally – subversiveness and fun, and shouldn’t be missed.