Lynchian Cabaret and Burlesque at The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Written for Made in Shoreditch.
The Double R Club brings to the stage London’s most daring and alluring cabaret performers, aiming to transport an eccentric audience into a world of dreams and nightmares inspired by none other than David Lynch. Once a month, this strange set of vaudevillians embraces the darkest and most disturbing traits of Lynch’s work, bringing them to life under the raunchy red lights of The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Needless to say, “restless nights and uneasy dreams go with the territory”.
When I first saw – or rather, when I first experienced – this strange and surreal cabaret back in November, I was left in a bit of a state of shock. Yet, for some reason beyond my comprehension, The Double R Club had me crawling back for more.
Twin-peaks-inspired floorboards and red velvet curtains welcome me as I step into the venue. Benjamin Louche, the compere and ingenious producer of this extraordinary show, steps into the spotlight and, smiling maliciously, invites us to abandon reality and succumb to absurdity, assuring us that in order to remain sane we must accept the illogical and embrace the absurd. Sensuous jazz music envelops the darkened room and the show commences.
The Double R Club features a tantalising mixture of burlesque, stand-up comedy, live music, surreal monologues and a series of sinister acts which can’t simply be placed into a specific category. One can expect laughter and hilarious skits, but also acts ranging from full-on nudity, escapology, juggling, strange choreography, whip cracking, fire eating, puppetry, political incorrectness and eroticism, all the way to masochism, sadism, sexism, blood and deformity, with a little bit of yoga in between. Spectators experience both beauty and brutality, against a backdrop of eerie yet seductive music. I’m not going to go into too much detail describing the individual acts, mainly because it would be nowhere near as traumatic as the real thing, and also because I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun – because after all, it is fun. For the majority of the time you find yourself laughing out loud, in between which you sometimes feel terrified, aroused or unsure as to how to react.
The Double R Club sets out to shock and disturb you, and this is exactly what it does. Come midnight, and the show is over, and you find yourself speechless. There is nothing anyone can say to follow such a performance, apart from take a deep breath of air and try and make sense of what you’ve just witnessed. Only, as Louche states introducing the performance, you have to let the absurdity of it take control over you. There is no sense to be made. And so I get back on the tube and journey home through the night with the images of those few hours moulded deep into my muddled mind.
- ‘Bit of an obvious question, but one which inevitably comes to mind: where did the idea of combining David Lynch with cabaret come from?
Five or six years ago my then girlfriend (now wife) Rose Thorne had been performing burlesque for a while and so I had come into contact with that world and with the associated world of cabaret. Having always been drawn to the stranger end of things, I began to wonder if a cabaret and burlesque club would work that wasn’t simply wall to wall frivolity but was a little more challenging to its audience. Both of us had been long-time fans of David Lynch and it struck me that his work might be an appropriate jumping off point. I suggested the idea but we were both somewhat hesitant, partly because I was still at university at the time, but also because we were unsure as to whether anyone would be interested. Then one night we attended burlesque competition The Tournament of Tease at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club (a Lynchian venue already, with its wonderfully kitsch illuminated loveheart and wood panelling) and saw Emerald Fontaine perform a searingly slow strip to a track from Fire Walk With Me; we both decided then and there that we would try our Lynch cabaret idea and that we would have to do it at that venue.
- What sort of person goes to see The Double R Club?
Bad people. Imaginary human beings. Very sick and dangerous individuals. People who have wandered from the straight and narrow or just want something different. I think we get a real mixture. Because not every act is specifically Lynch but Lynchian, even if you’re not familiar with his output you can, if on or near a certain odd wavelength, or willing to open yourself up to such, enjoy yourself. It was a decision very early on not to make it too specific, niche and geeky; those references are there for the few who will get them, but for those who won’t, it’s hopefully still a delightfully strange, frightening, perplexing and dreamy experience.
- Would you say there’s any underlying political, cultural, or moral connotation within the show… or is it “just for the fun of it”, for the shock factor?
I don’t think we’re really all that interested in shocking anyone. Unsettling, yes, but shock for its own sake is a cheap trick easily deployed and just as easily forgotten. Individual acts have certainly had their own political intent and arguably uncomfortable questions will be asked of an audience, but I think our goal at The Double R is more a sensorial one, to submerge the audience in another world, to, if you like, take people to Lynch’s ‘other place’. There is fun to be had certainly, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, absurdist humour abounds, hand in hand with a kind of off-kilter dream logic. If an audience member thinks to themselves “Why am I laughing?” or “Why did I enjoy that?” we’re already half way to shifting their perception of what entertainment can be.
- Do you feel that there are still certain boundaries within the performing arts, and that The Double R needs to push them?
I think there will always be boundaries within art and performance and as they are broken down, more will spring up. Oh how people love their taboos, their moral high ground and their censorship. Whether its depictions of sex or violence, disability, or even the question of what constitutes an act, what should be deemed entertaining, I’d say The Double R tackles those boundaries and questions, but then, having taken the work of David Lynch as our starting point, you could argue that those challenges and themes were already in place.
- Because controversy has always been at the heart of cabaret, do you think it’s important for The Double R Club to be different compared to a lot of other shows in London?
Yes, though our initial decision to be different came more from not wishing to merely ape what was already out there (what would be the point in that?); this, coupled with our particular tastes and perversions made us what we are today. Again, controversy can be healthy but if used just for the sake of it, it quickly becomes stale.
- Last time I was at The Double R I witnessed a woman faint during one of the acts. How does this make you feel?
Hahaha, of course we don’t want our audience to come to any real physical harm but as visceral reactions go, that’s a doozy! I’m kind of envious of her to be honest, the idea of experiencing something that would have such an effect… Usually all we get is reports of bad dreams…
The Double R Club returns on February 21st, tickets available on http://www.thedoublerclub.co.uk and going fast!