From the moment the Sally Bowles-esque Bernadette Byrne and creepy Lautrecian cross-dresser Victor Victoria hit the tiny stage, I had four questions in mind. Would they be funny? Would they be musical? Why aren’t there props? And where can I get a feather-shoulderpadded sequined pantsuit like Bernadette’s?
‘Ve vill become intimate, ya?’ Bernadette was quick to inform us, in her light, German-laced soprano that held up throughout the hour-long performance. Eagerly hoping that the tables would somehow hide us, we were ambivalent about this ‘intimacy’. It is well known that if you visit a comedy performance you should avoid the front row, particularly if you happen to be American (like me), an IT consultant or with a partner who is considerably better looking than you. East End Cabaret was no exception, with the joke, most of the time, on the men. To warm us up, Bernie and Victy started with a jazz performance of Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ before launching into original oeuvre ‘Ping Pong’, about amazing vaginal talents and the disappointment that results from realising you don’t have any. Things really kicked off when Bernadette’s running gag about a bendy yogi turned into a nightmare for one elderly gentleman, who looked as though he mistook the dark innards of the Komedia for a working men’s club. Armed with a ukulele, Bernadette serenaded said gentleman while Victy plonked her half tutued, half trousered behind on some unsuspecting, but not unwelcoming man, complete with musical saw.
At the heart of the show shines two terrifically talented women; they play their material with conviction, and the material itself is the truthful kind of funny. It’s a situation we’ve all been in, the situation we could imagine not wanting to be in, mixed in with a bit of the absurd, as in ‘It Was Still Hard’, a song about rigor mortis in an unfortunately intimate spot. Though the ‘F’ word was never uttered (feminism, that is), it runs through the core of the show. An improvised rap number (at my behest) poked fun at one stage volunteer through his own ripostes – turns out the barman, who seemed to enjoy the limelight, follows a particular route to a lady’s heart – Nando’s, spanking and promises of doggy-style.
The show stalled a bit during ‘Camel Toe’, a phenomenon most of us are probably familiar with, but haven’t quite figured out how to publicly laugh at. Victy’s creepy, homicidal crush on Bernadette is ripe for laughs, but also threads a touching, unrequited queer love story throughout the performance. Of the two, Victy veers between sharp and weird, Cameron to Bernadette’s much cooler, happy-go-lucky Ferris. The result is a complimentary partnership – good songs, well-played and a clever rejoinder to the often misogynist portrayals of women in pop culture. How nice to find a show that doesn’t resort to the trope of ‘headaches’ in the bedroom for comedy – in fact, if you find yourself there with Bernadette or Victor Victoria, prepare for a raucous ride.