Brighton Fringe 2012
A delightful though short journey through the sexual adventures of a couple of kooky cabaristas in an intimate setting. East end cabaret brings us a darkling diva and a musical queen/king combination. Delicously dark tales with plenty of audience interaction, the duo get up close and personal. But is that all there is?
On entry into the Komedia Studio bar, the words East End Cabaret shine glowingly in a corner of the stage, red lights, dark back cloth a couple of mics in dim lighting, yes it looks like the setting for a cabaret, perhaps a little too clean and tidy for an actual east end cabaret, there’s no scuffed carpet or leaning greasy pole, no drunk slouched in the corner on his last gasp, no icy blonde reading a paper behind the bar. It’s a good looking setting, the barman is good looking, good job really because he’s pulled into the action later, the lighting lady is good looking, the set looks good, the tables look good, everything is set. An elongated Liza Minnelli-like glides up to me to ask how I am, “I am feeling fine thank you”, “would I like to sit darling”, “yes I would” I opt for a side floater, (it’s a stool at the side, oh dear now I’m conjuring up images of swimming pools, forget that) I find myself a darkened corner, I could have sat anywhere because unfortunately there is not much of an audience, in the end I count 11, difficult to engender atmosphere with 11, and difficult to engender atmosphere at 6pm in the evening but still, it feels like everything is ready for the Cabaret.
And so we begin, the Cabaret ensemble is composed of two kooky cabaristas, Bernadette, a long black clad diva who was the greeter me and her shorter musical companion Victor/Victoria., dressed half and half as man and woman. From the beginning Bernadette
warns us that there is going to be audience participation and that worries me, with only 11, I have a one in eleven chance of being picked. It’s a shame there isn’t a bigger audience, maybe because they weren’t in the brochure, at least I couldn’t find them, maybe because (I heard) that it was difficult to negotiate the box office rigmarole to get tickets for them. Whatever the reason you need a big crowd for audience participation to work well, its all about schadenfreude, and picking the right person, its an artform in itself, a skill honed through years of experience. The wrong person can puncture the atmosphere and then you have to work really hard to get the room back on your side.
Still these two worked hard and they work well together, they complement each other, they bicker, they bitch, they interfere with us and they do their job, they entertain us, they pick the atmosphere up with a collection of self-penned deliciously morbid songs.
However there was something lacking, apart from the audience.
These are young cabaret performers , they lack the danger that older cabaret artists possess, artists such as Meow Meow , who after a lifetime in cabaret is only just beginning to break through, artists who make you positively afraid of being approached yet thrilled that you might be because you realise these artists have nothing to lose, they have a few years of fading beauty and artistry and then it really is all over, they are exotic dangerous creatures and I think that sense of danger is what is missing for me, cabaret should be dangerous and east end cabaret should be especially dangerous or crazier or something, I’m thinking of other female duos like the Frank Chickens, you just never knew what was coming next,
The show also lacks a narrative and direction. I wanted to care more about their journeys, I think they could do with some direction, it felt like they had been getting good responses to their act and so had settled at what they had rather than striving for something extraordinary. But I felt they could do with pushing. They could be teasing out and exploring moments in the show that would give it depth and challenge them and us more. My instinctive reaction is that they have got used to being told how wonderful they are and therefore, not surprisingly have settled for that rather than going deeper, there is lots of scope inside their relationship for some real emotional fun. Victor/Victoria has the timing of a good clown, she knows how to hold a moment, she obviously understands the beat of comedy and Bernadette is wonderfully gothic as she regales us with her flamboyant traumas but I didn’t see the spark between them that is the key to that dark glory that is an unforgettable cabaret act, I suspect that spark is there but not at 6pm on a wet May evening in front of a few people and I can’t blame them for that. I’ve been there, it sucks. So on you go, you drag the barman on stage, he’s cute, he behaves, you can abuse him, on you go.
I would recommend you go and see these two, I would recommend you make sure it’s a late night show, in a bigger venue where the drink is flowing and the place is full of people out for a good time, it’s the perfect gig for a daring young buck to take his beau on the second date, they are charming, talented performers, and I would love to see them again under different circumstances, but that night it was what it was and that’s way the cabaret kookie crumbles.
I suspect in the right environment with a full house this show would be totally different and would raise the roof but I can only review the show I saw, I can imagine a 4 star show but I didn’t see a 4 star show, 47 mins is not enough for a 4 star review, or alternatively £10 is too much for 47 mins, whichever way it falls it needed to be longer, I felt short changed and so did the couple I overheard on the way out.
And that’s down to the producer or the venue or both or someone because at the heart of it are two very talented kookie cabaristas who deserve a bigger room and a bigger audience and I hope they find that and that they have longevity enough to rise to be pearly queens of east end cabaret.