The performer has brought her “darkest, funniest and most debauched” cabaret club to London for the first time, featuring a Weimar-punk jazz band, circus, fire-breathing sideshows and drag queens. Bernie Dieter tells Giverny Masso how the show celebrates difference “in a time where there’s a lot of scary shit happening in the world”…
Tell me about Little Death Club.
It’s is the darkest, funniest, filthiest cabaret club this side of Berlin. During my years touring the world, I have collected a glorious bunch of punks, freaks and weirdos with these amazing skills. It’s kind of a night out in a Spiegeltent. It feels like a late-night lock-in where you never know what could happen.
What have the reactions been like?
Phenomenal. We’ve had 10 five-star reviews already, which has been amazing because this is our first time doing the show in London. We had an amazing season in Edinburgh, where we were in the top five best reviews of the entire festival, which was ridiculous. I think people are really hungry for this kind of thing at the moment, because we’re living in a time where there’s lots of scary shit happening in the world. What we try to do with the show is highlight how important it is to come out with your friends and to laugh and make new connections, and not be afraid of things that are different.
How did you get into performance?
I have always been an attention-seeker, it’s always been in my DNA. It’s actually in my blood – my grandma’s family owned a circus in Germany just before the war. When the political situation in East Germany, which is where they were from, became very scary for people who were outside the norm, they fled from East to West Germany in a circus caravan. She hid under sequinned outfits in the costume car. She was an amazing woman who really inspired me. As soon as I was old enough to be in a pub I was there, and if there was a piano I would play it. You couldn’t really stop me.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced?
There is a lot of gender bias in theatre, it feels at its core like a very male-dominated workplace. It’s definitely changing but in terms of producers and directors it’s more challenging to be taken seriously as a woman who is also very empowered. The songs that I’m singing can be confrontational and can be of quite a sexual nature, but at no point am I ever playing that traditional ‘womanly seduction’ role. It’s very in your face – ‘this is how it is, either get on board or get out’ – which is a really fun line to work, but it does challenge certain people as to what they think a woman should be doing on stage. Sometimes you can get interesting responses from older male critics.
What are your proudest career moments so far?
I’m so proud of this show, I really feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of, all the way through from the production team to the cast. But I was also the first ever female emcee of La Clique, which is a big, infamous variety show. It was a big step, to have a female emcee was new for them and I was really proud to hold that mantle.
First professional role: Putting on a variety show in EastEnd Cabaret (2011)
Agent: Tom Velvick at Dead Man Label (management)
Little Death Club runs until June 23 as part of the Underbelly Festival Southbank. More information is available at underbellyfestival.com