REVIEW! The Full Bronte, Scary Little Girls @ The Space Theatre

Writer: Rebecca Mordan
Director: Sharon Andrew
Performers: Rebecca Mordan and Sharon Andrew (Scary Little Girls)
30 October – 3 November

The Full Bronte Production 1

Scary Little Girls stars Rebecca Mordan and Sharon Andrew present The Full Bronte, a comedic cabaret homage to the Brontë sisters (and mother). The setting of The Space Theatre, located in a converted Victorian church in the Isle of Dogs, and the timing of its run there, over the All-Hallows season and into the first wintry days of November, came together in perfect confluence to provide a fitting atmosphere for this show. The theatre space and attached bar were welcoming, as was the audience (mainly middle-aged women), and the eighty minutes passed in a riot of giggles and raised eyebrows.

Cabaret diva Maria (Mordan) and her put-upon Cornish intern Brannie (Andrew) inhabit the stage with such comfortable, familiar, pitch-perfect harmony, that the show never misses a beat or loses its rhythm, despite the chaotic and at times disjointed nature of its content. The show slides between musical theatre, slapstick buffoonery, pantomime, hip-hop, literary lecture, interpretive dance, dramatic readings, gameshow farce, and pure comedic squabbling, with audience interaction woven throughout. There is even a moment when the comedy is temporarily stripped back, and Maria performs an exquisite piece of poetry set to song, accompanied by a ukulele of all things. This breath of genuine beauty amongst all the silliness caught me pleasantly off-guard, and it felt like the character of self-absorbed diva Maria briefly fell away,  revealing Mordan with her very real vocal talents and love of literature. Then the song ended, the spell was broken, Maria was back with her melodrama, and The Full Bronte lurched ahead at full comical speed.

In the Q&A following Thursday night’s performance, Mordan and Andrew mentioned that some critics pooh-pooh the show (which has been touring for seven years now!) because of its lack of literary gravitas. To those critics, I could only ask: well, what did you expect?? Who wanders into what is clearly an over-the-top comedic cabaret expecting a TED Talk on the literary greats? Even my friend, whom I dragged along at the last minute, who had never read anything by the Brontës, and who darkly threatened me on entry that “there had better not be any audience participation in this, Sophia” had an absolute ball. (And, yes, he did end up being the one singled out to undergo the longest and most mortifying piece of audience participation in the show… Sorry and thanks Andy, I’m sure she didn’t mean to use that much tongue!)

The Full Bronte is not breaking any particularly new grounds in comedic cabaret theatre: the characters and their relationship are tropey, the music is largely by-the-numbers, and most every element of the show is fairly predictable (yes, there is an excellent Kate Bush impression, and yes, some comedic cross-dressing, and of course, some wink-wink sex jokes). However, seeing comedy confidently performed by two experienced, magnetic woman artists is always a breath of fresh air, and when the subject matter is a celebration of other woman artists, that becomes an even rarer joy. Tonight is the last night of Scary Little Girls’ run at The Space, but they will continue touring afterwards, and I would highly recommend the show to anyone who enjoys cabaret and/or the Brontës.

Reader, I loved it!

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Little Death Club @ Circus Hub Edinburgh

Hosted by Bernie Dieter
Presented by Underbelly and Dead Men Label
3rd – 25th August 2018, 8pm

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Bernie Dieter in Little Death Club (background: Jess Love and Myra DuBois). Photo from berniedieter.com

Little Death Club bubbles along with easy good humour and sly winks, buoyed by the delightfully naughty charm, raucous wit, sultry Weimar-punk-jazz vocals, and wildly careening pseudo-Euro accent of its black-clad hostess, Bernie Dieter. Her flirtatious banter with the audience brings a sense of intimacy (so important, darlings! we don’t get intimate enough these days!) to the large-scale Spiegeltent, and her acts – from an aubergine-heavy emoji song to an ode to dick pics to a demand for cunnilingus – exude exuberance and an unapologetic female sexuality which never sacrifices its own pleasure for the male gaze. (I may be a little enamoured of this larger-than-life mistress of havoc.)

The show’s strongest acts – aside from its fabulous compere – are, interestingly, those which are most traditional and least subversive: fire eater Kitty Bang Bang and Oliver Smith-Wellnitz on the double bar trapeze. The former is classically, coquettishly sexy, despite the luxuriously curling merkin which pokes out amongst red mesh lingerie – watching her brandish, twirl, roll, swallow, spit, jiggle, and breathe fire was absolutely enthralling, especially since I was half-convinced her synthetic victory rolls and tumbling wig might go up in flame at any moment! Smith-Wellnitz, on the other hand, glided onto the stage as a tall, slim, almost elfen androgyne, slipping out of a long black gown to perform an achingly beautiful aerial dance, accompanied by a haunting self-penned ballad from Dieter, Cracks in the Mirror.

The Underbelly Circus Hub To Celebrate 250 Years Of Circus

Oliver Smith-Wellnitz in Little Death Club – photo source

The show’s other acts included glam granny drag queen Myra DuBois, fed-up and disillusioned mime Josh Glanc, and Jess Love performing hula comically under sufferance. Each had a unique comedic appeal based on self-aware genre parody and subversion of circus/cabaret expectations, however their acts seemed lacking in energy and cohesion, which meant the show sometimes struggled with pacing and momentum. This may have simply been penultimate-week slump, or simply because this is a collection of artists who are all at the Fringe with their own solo shows; they are marketed as a “family of freaks”, and it is true that they are all dramatically different in appeal and style (although for a club where “difference” is welcomed and celebrated, there is a distinct lack of racial diversity). However, their easy self-confidence in their acts and their disabilities also made it seem as though they weren’t quite challenging themselves or their audience.

Little Death Club may not be breaking new burlesque/kabarett/circus ground, but they certainly command the existing ground with expertise and ebullience. I would recommend this show for you if you are a Fringe-goer who wants some light and sexy fun after a day of hard-hitting shows, and wish to use it as a sample taste so that you can then pursue the solo shows of your favourite acts.

Tickets

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Denied Under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act by Connie Wookey @ South London Theatre, West Norwood

Devised and performed by Connie Wookey

Connie Wookey (yes that is her real name) is a charming and talented performer who has composed a fun 45 minute show about some distressing topics.

Essentially a light comedy cabaret about things in life we can’t control, “Denied Under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act” touches on sexual harassment, malfunctioning planes and being an actress in New York, though doesn’t go into revelatory depth on any of these topics. Everything is dealt with simply, with a refreshing directness.

Some of Wookey’s songs and stories are touching, others feel a little like narrow casting – not all audiences are going to be able to identify or empathise with jokes about the vagaries of working as an actor or being middle class.

It’s an enjoyable show: a pleasant night out with an appealing host in Wookey.

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Artist’s website

Thirsty! Tori Scott @ The Vaults

14th March- 18th March
Performed by Tori Scott

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Tori Scott’s Thirsty! is a freewheeling hour of cabaret, filled with salacious humour and honestly affecting songs. Scott slings together risqué vignettes taken from her own life with numbers ranging from Judy Garland to Janelle Monae. The result is ribald fun and an authentic New York cabaret atmosphere.

Tori Scott’s comedy is generously self deprecating, and she delivers punchlines with hilarious frankness. Her stories all riff on the theme of “thirst,” whether that be thirst for booze, and the joyfully depraved places that’s led her, or plain old sexual desire. At some point in the performance she refers to the piece as a cautionary tale, but there’s no real narrative connecting the stories, nor does our heroine seem to learn any real lessons from her experiences. Tori Scott doesn’t really want to teach us anything, she just wants to entertain, and on that level she certainly succeeds.

What surprised me was exactly how she goes about doing that. While the humour is bawdy and the comedy sharp, the real joy for me came from the singing, accompanied by Scott’s appropriately named band, The Shame Spirals. Scott is an extremely talented and skillful singer, and the generosity that she brings to her comedy is doubly present in her singing. She sings with both self-assured panache and honest, soul-baring emotion. It caught me off guard: one moment I was hearing a particularly suggestive bit about making eye contact with a public masturbator on the New York subway, and the next I was hearing a surprisingly soulful cover of Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ Like mixing sweet and salty, the contrast makes both stronger, and the variety brings a zesty flavour to the proceedings.

I did feel that the performance was slightly let down by its venue. Not by the Vault Festival in general (which is a perfect match for Scott, with its neon underground atmosphere and ready access to alcohol) but by the Crescent theatre specifically. The Crescent is a fairly conventional, pros-arch space, about as conventional as one can get in a disused underground tunnel. I’m no expert in cabaret, but to my understanding it’s most often performed in more of a pub or comedy club atmosphere, with audiences sat around tables and, crucially, the ability to get up and order more drinks. The dead-on nature of the proscenium arch and “latecomers will not be admitted” atmosphere all felt a bit too formal, and jarred slightly with the very loose energy of the show. However, I’m nitpicking, as the fun electric vibes of the Vault festival more than make up for the slightly over-formal structure of the Crecent.

If Thirsty! sounds like it would appeal to you, here’s my advice: Show up early. Take a few friends with you. Preferably, some or all of you will be gay men. This is to best enjoy Tori Scott’s many references to gay culture, terminology, and dating apps, but is by no means a requirement. Spend some time at one of the Vault Festival’s many bars, soak in the underground atmosphere, and have at least a couple of drinks. Then, get ready to sit back and enjoy some raunchy, entertaining cabaret.

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Tickets