eastend cabaret

Eastend Cabaret

Cabaret XXL

Birmigham Rep

****

IF YOU are eager for a slice of the alternative theatre pie, then Cabaret XXL returns to The Rep door for its autumn/winter season. Previously a Thursday night and monthly slot, the evening now moves to a mostly Friday night affair (do check the schedules) and at the slightly later time of 9.30. This is presumably to acquire greater audience potential from the weekend crowd heading into the city.

The Reps previous offerings at XXL have dazzled and the shows set for the next few months look to continue that trend for quality alternative comedy.

That leads nicely to the first act of the season Eastend Cabaret. It features the duo that is Bernadette, the glamorous, somewhere from Europe diva and the visual half man/half woman Victor Victoria. This show is pretty much all about sex, featuring a series of songs that illustrate our addiction to it and their complex performing relationship all tied together with a string of blatant innuendoes’ antics.

It seems no subject in the area of carnal relations is taboo and Bernadette controls the action with Victor often contradicting her sarcastically, so that the focus shifts from one to the other in equal measures.

Because of that it’s hard to know who to concentrate on as the pair separate and use both the stage and audience space, each stealing the limelight in their own way. It also means you miss a lot of what is happening and whilst Bernadette is literally taking over the men in the audience, Victor is manically gesturing behind her.

Victor is the crazy, Harpo Marx-like, musical force on both piano and accordion and he/she delivers the backing for Bernadette’s quirky vocals. The lyrics to their songs are nothing but observations on the sexual act, lust and self-love although the most successful is a drinking song kept for the pre-planned encore.

The pair have crafted a polished performance and the personas they have created work well in uniquely exploring all sorts of comedic possibilities. Victor Victoria throughout is unable to halt Bernadette’s sexual prowess and desire and that is often played or taken out on the audience.

At some points the sound was unbalanced and often too loud for the space which meant a lot of the storytelling in the songs was lost. The duo does not hold back in their extreme performance although the audience members selected for various tasks seemed a little uncomfortable in what they were made to do.

Gathering and using audience members for participation in a live show can be either entertaining or uncomfortable to watch. The girls do get a lot of laughs from just having their victims onstage but do little than use or partially molest them in public. Take away this and a lot of the laughs and impact of the show would be lost and after a while it began to be a little too obvious.

Overall though the pace of the action kept the comedy flowing and rescued otherwise awkward moments keeping the sell-out audience well entertained.

It’s a sexually charged and feisty start to the new improved Cabaret XXL nights at the Rep and if the heat generated in the room by Eastend Cabaret is an example and anything to go by, then you won’t be minding the relief of the chill from the approaching autumn /winter nights after future shows.

Jeff Grant

21-10-16 

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