Dieter gets dirty underground

20 November 2020

Bernie Dieter’s songs remain pretty much the same, but David Zampatti says the cabaret queen’s new show is fertile and fabulously dirty.

‘Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground’, Zaccaria/Dead Man Label ·
Crown Perth, 19 November 2020 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Bernie Dieter’s Fringe World appearances have been an annual pilgrimage for me since 2013. Back then she was Bernadette Byrne, half of EastEnd Cabaret, and she and her then partner-in-crime, Victor Victoria (Victoria Falconer-Pritchard) quickly became the Fringe’s mainstay Spiegeltentmeisters, a mantle Byrne, now plying her trade solo as Bernie Dieter, has carried since EastEnd went west a few years back.

Now she’s back in town, but not in a Fringe tent. She’s brought her new show, “Berlin Underground”, to a shuttered nightclub at the Crown Resort Casino in the lead up to the holidays (the season has already been extended until December 20) and her acolytes have gathered to the Fräulein in happy droves.

Which is hardly surprising. Dieter is a wonderful performer, wide-eyed and leggy, and a superbly intelligent one. She gives patriarchal shibboleths – from the femme fatale to the sex slave, the chanteuse to the rock chick – a hilariously merciless beating.

She doesn’t carry around a riding crop, but you’d swear she does.

Dieter’s Berlin Underground includes a hot rocking band and a lineup of cirque acts. Photo Johannes Reinhart

Anyone who saw her most recent show, “Little Death Club”, at this year’s Fringe World is not in for many surprises at “Berlin Underground” – but, in this case, familiarity will breed much contentment.

The formula that worked so well then – a hot rocking band and a line-up of cirque acts, all supporting Dieter’s slithery monologues and forays into the audience to terrify and excite her male victims – is reproduced here.   

For all her savvy and wiles, though, Dieter’s great strengths are her singing and songwriting, and her recent iterations have focused more and more on them. For “Berlin Underground”, she’s scattered a few covers (most notably Bowie’s portentous Five Years and a stripped-bare, emotional take on MGMT’s Time to Pretend) among her filthy, gin-soaked paeans to bad behaviour, like Let’s Do It Here, Dick Pics and A is for Alcohol.

Eavesdrop on Bernie Dieter’s chat with David Zampatti while she was in quarantine, in this Q&A.

She’s generous enough to slide back into the four-piece band (led with exuberant precision by bassist Mark Elton) to lend backing vocals to her guests, including the very impressive balancer Reuben Dot Dot Dot (who had two husky chaps from the audience doing stuff even Dieter might not dare ask of them) and the terrific pole dancer, Ruby Lai, whose body becomes an abstract object on her apparatus.

Hula-hoop artist Lisa Lottie seemed out of place, though, dampening the clandestine bonhomie that is a Dieter trademark with a performance that substituted surliness for wit. Hula hooping makes you go all snarly? Really?

Irritating though it was, it was a minor and passing distraction in a show choc full of treats.

I’ve said before that Dieter is entitled to stand among the queens of nuevo-cabaret like Meow Meow, Amanda Palmer and Camille O’Sullivan. “Berlin Underground” may not break new ground for her, but if the soil is well-ploughed, it’s rich, fertile, and fabulously dirty. You should dig it some time. 

Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground continues at Crown Perth until 20 December 2020.

Pictured top: Bernie Dieter’s great strengths are her singing and song writing. Here she fronts the band below pole dancer Ruby Lai. Photo Johannes Reinhart

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

Past Articles

  • Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

  • Life is a cabaret festival

    From an exquisite performance by Lior to mashed up anthems of gender equality, the opening weekend of the Perth International Cabaret Festival provides plenty of reasons to come hear the music play, writes David Zampatti.

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio