Little Death Club at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: an ecstatic celebration of difference
Atomic Saloon Show’s cooler, darker sister, Little Death Club is a more-mature, political and relevant piece of grown-up ‘kabarett’ that feels shot straight from a Berlin basement. It’s everything great about the Fringe distilled into a thick neon syrup and injected straight into your veins for the ultimate late-night kick. Even at 8pm.
First thing’s first, when we walk into the Underbelly Spiegeltent, it’s dark and hazy – sensual crimson, emerald and violet lights refract through a dense mist. On the stage, a live three-piece band play loud disco-inflected punk rock behind a glowing neon ‘Little Death Club’ sign. Performers wonder around the space, pausing to gaze at the audience and offer a glimpse of what is to come.
It’s into this blurry, alcoholic atmosphere that Bernie Dieter appears – our stratospherically awesome host for the evening’s shenanigans. With her commanding stage presence, wickedly funny sense of humour, and German intonation, Dieter absolutely owns the room. We’re instantly drawn into her dark, ‘gin-soaked’ neon Weimar of freaks and miscreants magnetically attracted from all over Europe. Dieter’s singing voice is simply spectacular – a cross between the sultry lounge-singers of old, punk sirens, jazz vocalisation and David Byrne. Her comic timing is immaculate, and her gaze is cosmic – inviting, cheeky, dangerous.
Lasting only 60 minutes, Little Death Club understands that variety and pacing are tantamount in a show like this, giving us a little bit of everything in short succession. Beau Sargeant’s act is nearly unclassifiable – a piece of contemporary dance that transitions into contortionism and aerial work. It’s sensual, shocking, and ridiculously impressive. Myra Dubois instantly turns the tables with a comedy… ‘song’ that dials up the audience interaction to a fever pitch. A short comedy routine by Marcel Lucont fits in perfectly to the mayhem – his louche, wine-drinking demeanour swirling impeccably amidst the haze and low-lighting in the club. Fire-breather Kitty Bang Bang closes out the show with a (literally) explosive showcase of inhuman skill and spectacle that’s truly gasp-inducing.
What’s so liberating about this show, compared to similar acts on the Fringe, is its mature attitude towards sexuality. Dieter constantly reminds us that Little Death Club is about embracing and celebrating intimacy, loosening up and just taking pleasure in it rather than treating sex as the butt of a joke. Down the road at Atomic Saloon Show, people are whooping and hollering at the prospect of nudity, and laughing in schadenfreude at audience humiliation, but this is something different – something positive, affirming, and altogether more modern. Despite relatively frequent audience interaction, this is a show where you feel completely safe to relax in your seat and just take in all the glorious mayhem. It never feels exploitative or in any way forced – in it’s own way, then, it’s some sort of cabaret revolution.
Interspersed with these acts, always present, is Bernie Dieter. Whether she’s singing, backed by her incredible live band, or performing bitingly funny, pitch-black stand-up, she’s the spectacular glue that holds this show together. It feels completely natural, anarchic, totally spur-of-the moment and utterly electric.
Although the show doesn’t attempt to weave overarching narratives into its circus, Little Death Club is able to draw on vast reserves of emotion that it conjures seemingly from thin air. A late-in-the-game showstopper starring Beau Sargeant and Dieter has people actually tearing-up in the audience, before garnering a mammoth foot-stomping, ecstatic ovation. Similarly, Dieter’s concluding speech about celebrating diversity and liberation in an environment that’s becoming increasingly hostile towards difference is something that could have felt trite or cheap. Instead, it’s a speech whose every word soars through your soul like the most powerful, roaring wind.
By the time we’re on our last legs, and Bernie begins the evening’s last, most melancholic song, dedicated to her grandmother, we’re completely enraptured. It’s a euphoric, concluding sing-along mired in the painful reality of life itself – a song that hurts, but which we emerge from reborn. We stagger out into the warm evening a little happier, a little more uninhibited, and a little stronger in our convictions. Little Death Club is an ecstatic celebration of difference; of creativity; of risk taking in a world which constantly tells us to play it safe. It’s what the Fringe is all about, and I fucking loved every second of it.