ER at the Fringe: Darkling
Dusty Limits is a liar and a tease. Though he keeps repeating he wants to do more solo work in addition to compèring, his outings remain a rarity as he hosts an increasing number of London’s finest revues (he even tried that line with us in a recent interview). But the opportunity is here at last to be seized: Darkling, Limits’s new musical offering of gloomy irreverence and hedonistic abandon, is finally on. For seven dates.
Taking up the intimate underground lounge bar of new Fringe venue SpaceCabaret, the singer is joined onstage by Jenny Hill on double bass and frequent collaborator and co-composer Michael Roulston on piano. The trio runs the gamut of despair and hopelessness with ten songs and plenty of sardonic banter in between. Subscribing to the bespoke genre of ‘stand-up misery’, Limits wrings shocked laughter and amused gasps as he shoots puppies, breaks up with life itself and targets everyone from politicians and bankers to religions and celebrities. One of the lighter anecdotes recounts how the Samaritans are unlikely to accept more volunteer work from him since his misconceptions about the notion of ‘suicide help’ lowered the organization’s average rather suddenly over Christmas.
The same tasteful sense of humour informs the show’s captivating original repertoire. In Polar Bear, Limits exhorts the masses to multiply and starve the planet to death, since no one needs a license, a handbook or a reason to breed more humans. Grin and My Old Addiction continue the ironic trend of laughing at the face of doom, seizing the day before it’s over.
Impudent lyrics and jokes may be Darkling’s lifeblood, but it is the singer’s formidable voice that pumps it through the dark chambers of its heart. His impressive range shifts comfortably through registers and styles, moving from comic falsetto highs to heartfelt murmuring croons with consummate ease. Limits’s singing takes the audience through a roller coaster of emotions, enhancing the negativity now, only to undermine it with a hopeful note later.
A handful of carefully chosen covers complete the set list, like the notorious ‘Hungarian suicide song’ Gloomy Sunday, purged of the dream-end gimmick of Billie Holiday’s recording (don’t bother to Google it, he’ll explain it during the show). The Weimar vibe often attributed to Limits is kept to a minimum, without any Hollaender or Weill standards making the cut – although David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes, brilliantly rearranged into a stripped-down piano-bar interlude by Roulston, sounds like something straight out of a Brecht play. Phillip Jeays’s Deathbed comes off bland and predictable, but Nick Cave’s Into My Arms glows with a moving, unaffected candidness that fully conveys the show’s underlying premise of melancholy as a natural human state.
Perhaps it’s all a ploy to raise his market value by making it scarce. Perhaps he just “can’t be arsed,” busy as he is downing cheap white wine every night while breaking hearts and ruining the last virtues to be found in Soho. He may even be genuinely working on it: if you consider that his previous Fringe show, The Picture of Dusty Limits, had a single engagement, the seven dates of Darkling seem like a bold step forward.
Whatever the case, keep an eye out for the smudged eye shadow because, at least for the time being, Dusty Limits’s cabaret nights of musical debauchery are few, far between and definitely worth the wait.
Darkling. Conceived and performed by Dusty Limits. SpaceCabaret @ 54, Edinburgh. 21-27 August, 18:05. £11-14. www.dustylimits.com
Photo by Michel Dierickx