Punk cabaret defining this year’s summer in London – Little Death Club at the Southbank’s Underbelly

The season of summer is generously applied at London’s Southbank once the Underbelly stage has been erected – this means summer lasts at the river Thames from April until September. In its 11th year this stable in the capital’s calendar has over 140 performances and events scheduled and one of the highlights already from the outside is the round Spiegeltent, dedicated to cabaret and theatre in the shade of the London Eye.

The Little Death Club promises an hour of acrobatics including a contortionist, mime, fire-breathing and a bearded lady, performed by fantastic misfits. So far, so thegreatestshowman but the brochure also points out nudity and swearing.

We pick our seats around the ring and are immediately driven to our Cologne-born host Bernie Dieter and her rock anthem love letter to her German grandmother. This is personal and close to the heart and real and I want a tattoo immediately, claiming in Sütterlin “Oma is my spirit animal”. This firework of a woman has been born to be on stage and experiencing her energy makes memories of Liza Minnelli and Nina Hagen performing on TV fade away like far memories.

Quickly it is being confirmed that the performers refuse even the slightest idea of a fourth wall: Everyone can be chosen to help out on stage (with a slight tendency towards victims with beards and shirts tonight) and some of these acts are so provocative that even our host laughingly apologises to everyone having come with their parents. Here nudity means nudity so be prepared for not only merkins (I learned this word from Family Guy, seriously!) but also the real deal, for revenge blow ups of inappropriate pictures sent anonymously to the artists and of very dirty lyrics. We hear heavy metal, electronic beats and the Hammond organ from a funky band on stage, the music being far from the rusty miniature accordions I expected. There is a funny cover of I Know Him So Well from the Chess musical, actually a semi-cover as it is done by one singer only about whom we are still debating if it was a drag act or not. It does not matter that we cannot agree but we find parallels to Cirque Du Soleil’s Zumanity we saw last year in Las Vegas – this is an explicitly fine European miniature version. I picked my favourite tonight with what is probably the most zeitgeisty performance I have ever seen (having been through quite a lot of sequins and fishnets recently). Neither have I laughed like this for a while!

I am completely wowed and out of breath when we walk out of the Spiegeltent. This hour of anarchy felt like a whole night. Take this, Feierabend!

***** out of 5 stars

While the Underbelly Festival continues, Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club closed in late June. Tickets were available from £21.50

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