Bernie Dieter has built a reputation as “the darkest, funniest and most debauched kabarett star this side of the Berlin wall” (to quote her own website), titillating and sometimes shocking audiences with her risqué brand of cabaret that blends music, comedy, kink and gin.
She is a familiar figure from previous Adelaide Fringe show EastEnd Cabaret, but this year returns to the Spiegeltent in Gluttony with a full band and a cast of characters including a seven-foot drag queen, acrobats and a morose mime for Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club.
In this Q&A, Dieter discusses the origins of Weimar kabarett – a celebration of “the seedy underbelly of society” – her own journey as a kabarett star, and what Adelaide audiences can expect from the show.
When (and how) did little Bernie realise she was destined to be a kabarett queen?
I think I always knew, darlings. I never even thought of doing anything else. When I was 14 and went to my first ever drag show in Berlin, I was pulled up on stage to lip sync Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” – there was no going back.
We’re told you come from a German circus dynasty – what sort of stories did your Oma tell you and to what extent did these fuel your own dreams?
My Oma would often talk about the carnie family that she loved in all their dysfunctional glory. The crazy Russian acrobats who were brother and sister but also quite probably lovers, the clown who was hilarious on stage was actually an alcoholic and the grumpiest man in the world. It made me determined to surround myself with interesting people – glorious punks, freaks and weirdos – wherever I went.
Tell us about the origins of Weimar kabarett and how it differs from other forms of cabaret?
“Weimar kabarett” was born just after the First World War, when the Kaiser was kicked out of Germany and the Weimar Republic was formed. After living under an extremely controlling, authoritarian government for so long, the people were liberated by a new democracy.
Censorship laws were lifted and kabarett was a celebration of their newfound freedom. Satirical, edgy and full of social commentary, it pushed the boundaries of what was considered the “norm”, celebrated all genders, all sexual orientations and allowed people to be whoever they wanted to be.
It was dominated by two main themes – sex and politics. While some other forms of kabarett were a form of escapism – decadent, lavish soirees full of beauty and glitz – Weimar kabarett was a down and dirty celebration of the seedy underbelly of society, defiantly looking at it head-on and exposing it in all its ugly, complicated glory.
Walking into Little Death Club is said to be a bit like walking into a Twin Peaks dive bar. How would you describe the space and what people can expect to see?
The Wonderland Spiegeltent in Gluttony is the perfect setting for the Little Death Club. Its old wooden boards are just dripping with circus and kabarett history.
The red lights and the thick haze, kabarett tables by the stage, a morose mime drowns his sorrows in a bottle of red and a bearded lady dances in the shadows, and of course I will be there waiting for you, darling…
“Inappropriate”, “provocative”, “hilariously degenerate”, “deliciously salacious” – they’re just some of the adjectives used to describe both you and the show. Should audiences be scared or merely titillated?
Definitely both. There is a lot of titillation, but there is always danger in the club because it is a conversation. There is no fourth wall, no seat is safe, and it is a show where anything can happen.
That is the beauty of kabarett and what makes it such an unforgettable night in the Spiegeltent.
If you weren’t entertaining and causing mayhem on stage, what would you be doing with your life?
I would own a tiny dive bar in Berlin so I could drink copious amounts of gin and chat to strangers at the bar. That really is my favourite pastime.
And lastly, you’ve become something of a favourite here at Adelaide Fringe … what keeps you coming back?
Adelaide loves the filth! Every time I come back everyone is so open and up for anything; the shows are always packed and raucous and we always have such an amazing time. We just can’t help ourselves.
Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club will be in the Wonderland Spiegeltent in Gluttony from February 15 until March 17.
Read more InDaily Fringe stories here.