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17 May 2012
Duckie takes over Wilton's

Ben Walters: Time Out

Duckie takes over Wilton's, Ben Walters, Time Out

The queer performance troupe is teaming up with cross-generational community theatre charity Magic Me for a weekend wonder at the vintage music hall

'Community theatre is the new rock 'n' roll,' insists Simon Casson. The Duckie producer has done his best to make it so but the latest project is perhaps the most daring. The queer performance company - best known for its 16-year Saturday night residency at the RVT and adventurous projects at the Barbican - is collaborating with Magic Me, a Tower Hamlets performance charity that has been bringing pensioners and schoolkids together for 22 years. 'We look for things that are accessible or supply a need,' Casson says. 'We're funded by the Arts Council - we can't just do parties for our mates.'

Magic Me's projects typically begin by taking younger people into care homes and day centres or older people into schools. 'There aren't that many opportunities for older and younger people to meet in an increasingly segregated borough,' explains its programme director, Charlotte O'Dair.

O'Dair had been impressed by Duckie's 'Queers and Old Dears' events: dressed-up, family-friendly shows whose audiences are evenly split between Duckie regulars and local pensioners. 'They did work that anyone would want to see,' O'Dair says. 'Sometimes things aimed at older people just aren't that interesting.'

Casson is a big fan of such events. 'There absolutely is a convergence between a 75-year-old cockney Bangladeshi lady and the average Duckie punter, but they'd never meet normally - except at their own family dos - because London is so ghettoised,' he says. 'Bringing people together is the point of this kind of entertainment.'

'Queers and Old Dears' events have taken place at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion and the BAC's Grand Hall - 'we like beautiful old buildings,' Casson notes - so Wilton's Music Hall was a perfect fit for this new venture, backed by the Baring Foundation. The collaboration brings a wider audience to Magic Me and a younger generation to Duckie.

Not that these 14- and 15-year-olds will be exposed to the company's more adult elements. 'It's crowd-pleasey, fun, family-friendly Duckie,' Casson says. 'None of that cutting-edge rubbish. Mouse will not be performing.' (If you haven't seen Mouse's fluid-and-orifice-based work… Well, you probably wouldn't want to explain it to your grandmother.) Even so, with performers such as Scottee, Dickie Beau, Miss Behave, the LipSinkers, Up & Over It, Jessica Walker and Craig Reid on board, Duckie fans will be spoiled. And, Casson adds, 'there will be rollerskating drag queens. It's 2012. Everyone likes a queen on wheels.'

On the Magic Me side, three mixed groups of older and younger people are creating short pieces based around the theme of glamour: a photography group has made a slideshow of portraits of fictional music-hall characters; a music and puppetry group is critiquing glamour with a multi-gendered puppet several metres long accompanied by a poem; and the song and dance group has made a piece incorporating recollections of feeling glamorous with songs from swing to Lady Gaga.

The working process has yielded unexpected revelations: one woman who uses a wheelchair toured Europe with Tommy DeRosa's New Orleans Jazz Band in the 1930s; another had family on the Titanic. 'These things capture younger people's imaginations,' O'Dair says. 'The relationships they build are as important as what they create.'

And there can be social benefits on both sides. Troublesome kids find themselves embarrassed into being cooperative and 'the older people can be just as disruptive but being around the younger people gives them a role'.

Casson and O'Dair don't mind that there might be the odd jarring moment with so mixed a line-up. 'Of course you'll see the joins,' Casson says, 'but I think it will be charming and the audience will be generous. People like to see normal people rise to the challenge. You invest more if you think of them as being like your nan or your grand-nephew.' O'Dair, meanwhile, says 'I just want people to feel proud of what they've done. It's a much more public stage than we're used to.'

As with 'Queers and Old Dears', half the tickets were sold through Duckie's usual channels and half offered to local over-sixties. Both sets were snapped up. 'We've been overwhelmed by the desire from older people to come along,' says O'Dair. 'My colleagues have been more or less mobbed at lunch clubs.' Casson isn't surprised. 'It's a big night out with all the trimmings. East End pensioners love that - they want somewhere to wear their posh frocks to.'

If O'Dair has her way, this won't be the end of the collaboration. 'The desire for interesting things to do is so high, it feels like we could make it monthly and sell out.' And Casson suggests there might be some personally motivated interest from the Duckie side. 'Agewise, some of us are nearer the pensioners than the kids. We can't be punk rockers for ever. We've always talked about opening a Duckie nursing home…'

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