Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

EastEnd Cabaret may sound like a knees-up round the old Joanna as someone does Mike Read’s old act, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The vampish Bernadette Byrne and her ambivalent-gendered sidekick Victor-Victoria are more East European than East London – sex-obsessed throwbacks to Thirties Weimar cabaret with a modern twist.

Of course in European cabaret, songs about sex would be sultry and exotic. In Britain, they are dirty and funny. Here this duo combine unusual cover versions – interpreted via squeezebox, ukulele, saw and Peruvian nose flute -– with numbers based on their own bedroom escapades.

While the covers of the likes of Let’s Talk About Sex, Physical and Like A Virgin add some comforting familiarity, however mangled, it’s their original compositions that shine, as they belt out witty, filthy ditties about everything from Bangkok ping-pong parlours to persistent erections, tit wanks to danger wanks. Yes, it’s often puerile, but there’s definitely an elegance to the presentation.

It’s only to be expected, given the show’s title, but these pair do have a one-track mind, and more variation would be welcome. However their songs are not just sniggering at rude words and deeds, as they spin little yarns with witty twists and descriptive phrases.. as well, of course, as knob gags aplenty.

There are a couple of obvious gags: – a literal interpretation of My Sex Is On Fire, for instance, or the ancient joke of having one line end in ‘luck’ and its rhyming pair end in … ‘session’. That might have been risqué once, but when you talk freely about sexual extremes and don’t censor your swearing elsewhere, it seems redundant.

East End Cabaret have a strong aesthetic: Byrne in Louise Brooks bob and elegant cocktail dress, Victor Victoria as literally half-man and half-woman, divided left and right. They seem at home in the brand new Arcola Tent – a characterful ‘small top’ venue in Dalston that mixes low-budget grunge with chic ambitions – and chat winningly to the audience, both before the show and during it, as Byrne finds fresh objects of her lust in the crowd, just as chanteuses have done for decades.

There’s a little improvisation, and the paid have a winning dynamic, thanks to Victoria’s persona, interjecting dryly sarcastic comments like a cheeky schoolboy, pricking at Burns’s (Jennifer Byrne’s) sense of manipulative self-importance. It’s pretty much new packaging on established ideas, but The Revolution Will Be Sexual is a fun, flirtatious hour, executed in style.

Review date: 18 Nov 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Arcola

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