East End Cabaret: Notoriously Kinky

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

The East End girls have come West for a brief run at the Soho Theatre – via the decadent Weimar cabaret that represents their art form at its peak.

East End Cabaret certainly look the part. The insatiable, predatory and domineering seductress Bernadette Byrne has her hair in the most severe bob since Mugabe and has heavier lashes than a Saudi shoplifter. Her sidekick, the pianist, accordionist and musical saw-player Victor Victoria, meanwhile, is half-man and half-woman – though it’s never mentioned why her left half is showgirl, her right half spiv.

They sing about sex, about sex and about sex. About shagging virgins they found lurking by the iPods in Currys, about masturbating in the bushes, about Bangkok ping-pong shows - it’s smut all the way.

In the early numbers this seems limiting, as they stick too closely to over-familiar comic ideas that rarely surprise, but as the performance ramps up to a barnstorming finale, they get more inventive with the lyrics too Their best numbers have a catchy hook or an unhinged edge that makes them stand as dirty showtunes in their own right, irrespective of how subtle, or otherwise, the lyrics might.

Their performances are perfect: assured, intimidating and knowing. Bernadette is a lasciviously exaggerated vamp, while Victoria is both more sardonic and more clownish, a skilful foil able to convey an attitude and grab a laugh with the merest eyeball-rolling glance.

Songs are belted out with a passion that ranges from the mischievous to the psychotic, and men in the audience be warned: you are liable to be roped in to submissive audience participation, from forming a Man-Beast on which Bernadette can make her elegantly dramatic entrance, to being the object of her affections in a reconstructed date. If she simply sits on your knee and purrs out a ballad, old-school-style, you’ve got away lightly.

They are classily filthy, and while the lyrics of some of the earlier songs would benefit from more complexity, the entertainment factor is indisputable.

Review date: 2 May 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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