Review | ‘Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground’ a tonic for 2020 blues

Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground | Crown Perth | til Dec 20 | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

The supreme den mother of cabaret, Bernie Dieter, has returned to Perth with a blissful panacea for the woes of 2020.

No, it’s not a literal vaccine, but the Fringe World favourite’s unmistakably amorous brand of performance is the next best thing for body and soul. An ideal evening to wash away the melancholy of the year’s that’s been, and celebrate PrideFEST here in Western Australia.

It’s likely you’ve seen Dieter’s Little Death Club at one of our nation’s arts festival, or at least seen her name on a marquee or above a spiegeltent, and there’s a reason she’s become a fixture of the international Fringe scene. Dieter distills the essence of Weimar cabaret (or kabarett, as she prefers) into a delicious tincture with every show; flavoured with debauchery, rebellion, talent and love.

For Berlin Underground, Dieter has curated an exceptional coterie of performers to join her at her secret, custom-made kabarett venue at Crown Perth. From the ticket-collection queue to the grand finale, the evening is an all-consuming escape from beyond the theatre’s walls.

Greeted by wigless local lovelies BarbieQ and Sugar Du Joure at the door, audiences are led through the dressing room as the pair get ready for the show. Immediately, Dieter and her team take your hand and deliver you from Burswood to Berlin, establishing the tone of a discreet, yet spectacular dive bar in the heart of our city.

The secret space is laden with German delicacies; cold cuts, pickles, pretzels and cheeses. The distinct lack of carbohydrates makes me wonder if this is an intentional decision by Dieter, to solicit a boozy evening reminiscent of the extralegal kabarett clubs of the early 20th century, and give audiences the courage to meet their unknown neighbours.

Now the performance proper can begin. Bernie appears in her signature black bob and feathers, inviting audiences to join in the celebration with her original song Let’s Do It Here. Making the most of WA’s eased Covid-19 restrictions, Bernie ensnares a few revelers with her boa, lassoing them onto the stage and letting us know from the outset that we’re all part of the club.

Bernie serves as performer, hostess and human jukebox and the night unfolds and other performers take to the stage, crooning a selection of original songs and Dieter-fied covers of indie favourites as the soundtrack to the evening.

Melbourne performer and YUMMY cast member Jarred Dewey is first to take the stage after Bernie, with his extra-queer brand of contortion and acrobatics. Dewey sets the bar for the range of talents set to follow, writhing across the stage to Bernie’s Carnival of Sin.

Cirque du Soleil alum Reuben Dot Dot Dot follows in a cloud of smoke, gleefully puffing a cigar and sipping on dark liquor as he ropes two unwitting gents into his gravity-defying balancing act. Hula hooping hero Lisa Lottie prefers different vices though, spinning through a cloud of mysterious white powder as she playfully taunts the audience while flaunting her exceptional talents.

After a short interval to allow for more feasting and drinking, Bernie returns with Reuben, Jarred and Lisa with The Bar of Anna Marie. The song oozes with the tones of a drinking song of old, the kind of song you’d imagine pirates would howl after a successful haul. Very queer pirates.

Now it’s time for the local talents to shine. While their absence til now did make me wonder why they hadn’t appeared for more than a moment in any of the group numbers on opening night, both of these performers bring absolute show-stopping numbers to make WA extra proud.

Pole professional Ruby Lai slides the mood right back to sensual after Bernie’s sea shanty, slithering her way around her instrument in typically excuberant form. Then after a heart-rending, torn-down cover of MGMT’s Time To Pretend from Bernie, drag sensation and Miss Burlesque Australia 2018 Scarlet Adams shows us exactly what she’s got with a striptease to Yma Sumac’s Malambo No. 1 that’s as silly as it is sexy.

Bernie Dieter is the undeniably the mistress of modern kabarett, always selecting the boldest talent to join her in her celebration of all things punk. While the casts abilities shine brightly on stage, Bernie has crafted a holistic experience that not only entertains, but encourages camaraderie, facilitates revelry and puts love, acceptance and diversity at the centre of the ceremony.

Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground is at Crown Perth with an extended season, wrapping on Sunday 20th December. For tickets and more information, head to crownperth.com.au

Leigh Andrew Hill, image: Johannes Reinhart


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