In this lushly hilarious show, noir superstar Joe Black conjures up the atmosphere of the Eldorado; the Berlin nightclub that served as a regular haunt for gay men and women before it was closed by the Nazis in 1932. Originally, El Dorado was the name used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical golden city they believed to be hidden somewhere in South America. In hindsight, the infamous Weimar-era nightclub has taken on a similarly mythic and untouchable aura. It survives in the history books as a sacred space between the two World Wars in which openly gay people, transvestites and other sexual or gender rebels could freely mingle, enjoy themselves and watch performers like Marlene Dietrich.
The audience are here to have a good time and indeed they do – we were a raucous, boozy crowd which Mr Black could cater to perfectly
Now, zoom forward through the best part of a century. Here we are in the Spiegeltent, right in the thick of the Brighton Fringe. It’s the year 2017, but many people are arguing that the regressive politics of the early 20th century have resurfaced. In a world where every election result feels like an international disaster and armed police are patrolling our streets, there is a genuine need for theatre that takes risks, pokes fun, and creates space to hold the experimental, the strange, and the deviant.
However, despite a couple of nods to the current political climate, this isn’t a show that takes itself too seriously. Joe Black is interested in the decadence, style and attitude of the Weimar Republic, rather than the politics that circulated around it. The audience are here to have a good time and indeed they do – we were a raucous, boozy crowd which Mr Black could cater to perfectly.
Resplendent in a purple feathered turban, Black’s vampy persona is a beguiling mix of 30’s Berlin glamour and comically-sinister Disney villain. Meet Me At The Eldorado at times feels like someone scrolling manically through a playlist which includes Dietrich, Cruella De Vil, Shirley Bassey, Eartha Kitt (specifically as Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove), Zsa Zsa Gabor and Noel Coward. Covers, interpolations and original songs were performed by Black with a deliciously malevolent energy, while the performatively hapless (and extremely talented) Friedrich Hollandaise accompanied on piano.
At times the show appeared too loosely strung together, with some of the transitions between numbers feeling jagged, yet Black’s personality carried us along. My personal highlight was an instructional section on burlesque, in which we were taught that all the best burlesque dances end with a routine designed to repel attacking bees. It was a hilarious piece of physical theatre, camp and observant, and delivered with finesse.
We all need somewhere to escape to, so if the Eldorado ever materialises near you I strongly recommend paying Joe Black a visit. Fingers crossed for those attacking bees.