Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'll take that poodle, please ...

My Berliner cavalcade continues, and I’m still standing (when I’m not zooming around the city on the back of Kevin’s moto) thanks to a brief but now ended reduction in activity. Last night it was all stops out again, as I was plunged back into the city bright lights and theatrical life with a first night at Tipi, the larger and unmirrored tent-sister of the Bar jeder Venunft.

The show was Die Geschwister Pfister in the Clinic, and all I knew about it was that it was comical, musical and that Kevin has been talking enthusiastically to me about this group of players for years. I think I was vaguely expecting some kind of a musical play, but that’s not what the Geschwister Pfister is all about. The company are three -- one male (Toni), one female (Frln Schneider) and one androgynous (Ursli) – and they are less a company than an act. A singing act (and a very agreeable one) and a comic act, in the purest 20th century music-hall tradition. The ‘Clinic’ bit of the title is irrelevant: there is no story, just a little bit of intermittent characterisation on which to hang a selection of almost all English-language songs, well-known and unknown, and regular slices of banter, dressed up in some delightfully silly costumes and props, and punctuated by some simple but effective dance steps. Russ Abbott meets Abba.
The banter was often outside my comprehension, but when you have jokes about Boris Becker, the Schumacher brothers, Britney Spears, Sarah Ferguson (still!) and the like, you know what sort of country you are in. Actually, I was amazed just how much I did understand. Toni is extremely comprehensible and I could follow him more than half the time. Ursli speaks in a concatenation of tongues, mostly German and American, and of accents, and I could follow him a little less than half the time.
But it’s all immaterial. The Geschwister Pfister, whatever they do, exist to be their uncomplicatedly madcap selves -- three distinct personalities, three distinct talents, sometimes separate, sometimes a well-practised and well-oiled team – and how much you enjoy their act depends solely on how much you enjoy each and all of those personalities and talents.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Some bits more than others. Toni – who you think is going to be the straight man, but who is far more multi-talented than that – is my kind of performer. A really smashing singing voice, warm personality, great timing and the ability to melt into a third of a trio when necessary. Frln Schneider also sings well, though I thought her jazzy repertoire didn’t show her off to best advantage, and she is evidently a grand comic talent. She got the biggest audience reaction of the night for her stand-up piece of which, alas, I only took in the physical side. And then there is Ursli. And here I got a bit stuck. He sings well enough, and he looks like a jolly lad, but having lived through (and/or worked with) Michael Aspinall, Danny LaRue, Charles Pierce, Hinge and Brackett and the like, I’m a wee bit tired of blokes in frocks doing a very broad Hedy Lamarr cum Lucille Ball act. And if you are going to do it, you have to do it better or with more originality than anyone else. But this is just me: this young man is a well-known and celebrated performer with heaps of enthusiastic fans (including Kevin), and I and the man who sat next to me last night may very well be the only people in Berlin who don’t care a lot for the on-stage persona he wears.
The evening wound to its climax with Frln Schneider svelte in a natty kitten suit, Toni bouffed up as a comical black poodle and Ursli metamorphosed into some hilariously imagined feline or canine with a vast tail and naked thighs, joining merrily in three-part mid-20th-century harmony. It was all good fun, good silly fun, good musical fun and all around me everyone (except my neighbour) was having a rousingly good time. It was like being back in a friendlier and more intimate version of the London Palladium or the Blackpool Winter Gardens of my heyday …
and if I were still a talent agent/casting director, I’d be hotfoot after that poodle.

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