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Bernie Dieter’s songs remain pretty much the same, but David Zampatti says the cabaret queen’s new show is fertile and fabulously dirty.
‘Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground’
Crown Perth, 19 November 2020
Review by David Zampatti
Bernie Dieter’s Fringe World appearances have been an annual pilgrimage for me since 2013. Back then she was Bernadette Byrne, half of EastEnd Cabaret, and she and her then partner-in-crime, Victor Victoria (Victoria Falconer-Pritchard) quickly became the Fringe’s mainstay Spiegeltentmeisters, a mantle Byrne, now plying her trade solo as Bernie Dieter, has carried since EastEnd went west a few years back.
Now she’s back in town, but not in a Fringe tent. She’s brought her new show, “Berlin Underground”, to a shuttered nightclub at the Crown Resort Casino in the lead up to the holidays (the season has already been extended until December 20) and her acolytes have gathered to the Fräulein in happy droves.
Which is hardly surprising. Dieter is a wonderful performer, wide-eyed and leggy, and a superbly intelligent one. She gives patriarchal shibboleths – from the femme fatale to the sex slave, the chanteuse to the rock chick – a hilariously merciless beating.
She doesn’t carry around a riding crop, but you’d swear she does.
Anyone who saw her most recent show, “Little Death Club”, at this year’s Fringe World is not in for many surprises at “Berlin Underground” – but, in this case, familiarity will breed much contentment.
The formula that worked so well then – a hot rocking band and a line-up of cirque acts, all supporting Dieter’s slithery monologues and forays into the audience to terrify and excite her male victims – is reproduced here.
For all her savvy and wiles, though, Dieter’s great strengths are her singing and songwriting, and her recent iterations have focused more and more on them. For “Berlin Underground”, she’s scattered a few covers (most notably Bowie’s portentous Five Years and a stripped-bare, emotional take on MGMT’s Time to Pretend) among her filthy, gin-soaked paeans to bad behaviour, like Let’s Do It Here, Dick Pics and A is for Alcohol.
She’s generous enough to slide back into the four-piece band (led with exuberant precision by bassist Mark Elton) to lend backing vocals to her guests, including the very impressive balancer Reuben Dot Dot Dot (who had two husky chaps from the audience doing stuff even Dieter might not dare ask of them) and the terrific pole dancer, Ruby Lai, whose body becomes an abstract object on her apparatus.
Hula-hoop artist Lisa Lottie seemed out of place, though, dampening the clandestine bonhomie that is a Dieter trademark with a performance that substituted surliness for wit. Hula hooping makes you go all snarly? Really?
Irritating though it was, it was a minor and passing distraction in a show chock full of treats.
I’ve said before that Dieter is entitled to stand among the queens of nuevo-cabaret like Meow Meow, Amanda Palmer and Camille O’Sullivan. “Berlin Underground” may not break new ground for her, but if the soil is well-ploughed, it’s rich, fertile, and fabulously dirty. You should dig it some time.
Pictured top: Bernie Dieter’s great strengths are her singing and song writing. Here she fronts the band below pole dancer Ruby Lai. Photo Johannes Reinhart