Get your freak on with Time Out Live’s Friday Night Freakshow, a potent cocktail of late night variety hosted by the divinely decadent EastEnd Cabaret.
If the weather isn’t convincing you that we’re on the cusp of summer, the annual appearance of an upside down purple cow on the South Bank might.
Heralding the start of a season of subversion and silliness, Time Out Live’s Friday Night Freakshow at the Udderbelly is a motley collection of chanteuses, circus acts and members of the demi monde, all expertly compered by those equally dark creatures of the night, EastEnd Cabaret. With an 18+ rating and a 10.45 pm slot, it might make you laugh at things you know you really shouldn’t, but then that’s all part of its twisted charm.
For anyone who’s not been inside the bovine bowels of the Udderbelly, it’s a large tent with bleacher seating; a cross between a Big Top and a makeshift sports stadium. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a functional space with good sightlines and upbeat staff. Unless you’re a die hard fan of audience participation, sitting several rows back is advisable or you may find yourself being ridden across the stage as one half of a man beast or straddled by EastEnd Cabaret’s Bernadette Byrne who presides over the show like the tainted love child of Sally Bowles. Her adoring sidekick, the genetically confused Victor Victoria, accompanies her husky Mittel European tones on the piano and accordion and manages to look both deviant and lovelorn in equal measure.
Variety can be, by its very nature, a lucky dip. Friday Night Freakshow offers a well-rounded programme of talent that is satisfyingly risqué and hits the right note throughout, even if five audience members did walk out in the first ten minutes.
The reason for this exodus could be attributed to the appearance of the Rev Obadiah Steppenwolf III. After EastEnd Cabaret’s amuse bouche of an opening, the Rev’s explosive entrée sets the bar high for shockability. Dressed like Jesus in Ray bans and swigging a glass of beer, Glaswegian performer Jim Muir’s creation is a right-wing religious zealot who is partial to a bit of sexual deviancy. He makes an irreverent nod to the upcoming Edinburgh Festival, referring to Scotland as “Viking Rape Camp Number Three” and to its natives as drunken skip divers. The Scottish woman in the back row, however, doesn’t see the funny side and after a two-way tirade of heckling, the Reverend settles in for a hilariously filthy set that makes you glad that you didn’t invite your mother.
Comedy comes thick and fast throughout the evening. The Rev’s brilliantly abrasive set is offset by a gentler presence in the form of wry ukulele-playing Ria Lina. Described by Dusty Limits as a “Filipino Sarah Silverman”, it’s a rare artist who can sing about motherhood without being smug and cutesy and Ria is able to break down a few of its taboos with knowing cynicism and more than a hint of Victoria Wood.
There are more deviant chuckles courtesy of Edinburgh Fringe veteran Desmond O’Connor and his bittersweet songs and Gallic raconteur Marcel Lucont, who explains his favourite sexual positions with a series of numbered placards. Barefoot and taking occasional sips of red wine, Lucont’s laidback delivery and impressive command of the audience – including its noisiest members – is a joy to watch.
The Freakshow has plenty for the eyes as well as the ears. Fresh from performing with La Soiree at Sydney Opera House, Australian circus performer Jess Love, flawlessly rotates her hoops with all the enthusiasm of a teenager on a work placement scheme. This brilliant parody – entitled Hula Ooops – has a twist in the tale as she discovers her fishnets are getting in the way of the act and removes them. Along with everything else she’s wearing. Later, the freakshow wraps up on an energetic note with the amazing So and So Circus and their fast paced Hot Dots routine, combining jive dancing with tumbling.
The Friday Night Freakshow is exactly what it says on the tin. Anyone looking for a late night shot of exuberance to end the working week will not go far wrong with this monthly offering at the Udderbelly. Just don’t take your mother.
Friday Night Freakshow. Presented by Time Out Live. Udderbelly, London SE1 8XX. 14 June and 28 June, at 21:00 and 22:45. £15.50. www.udderbelly.co.uk
Photo credit: Gui O’Connor, exclusively for This Is Cabaret