'New cabaret' artists Duckie offer seasonal entertainment that would make a pantomime dame blush. Aleks Sierz meets them
the idea of a Christmas panto ? screaming kids, mincing dames and
singing from prompt cards ? is enough to make you howl, take heart:
there is an alternative. "New cabaret" ? cutting-edge theatre which
draws on the traditions of burlesque ? is the answer.
|A very British night out: C'est Barbican|
Duckie, one of the leading practitioners of the genre, won an Olivier award last year for its Christmas event, C'est Barbican!,
and returns this year with a new show under the same name. Its format
is seasonal entertainment, but not as we know it. The subterranean Pit
theatre at London's Barbican has been turned into a nightclub, and the
audience sits eight to a table, sips champagne and is encouraged to
smoke. Guests get 50 "Duckie dollars" and order as many of the 30 acts
from the menu as they can afford. These 10-minute acts are then
performed specially for these guests ? although, of course, you can
watch what's happening at other tables.
by table dancing as well as by glamorous cabaret, C'est Barbican!
offers an evening of stylish satire. I caught up with Duckie producer
Simon Casson and performers Ursula Martinez and Chris Green in a smoky
dive. Without their body stockings and make-up, they look reassuringly
normal, and drag-artist Green assures me he'll shave off his week-old
beard before he slips into costume.
event culture," says Casson. "The minute you walk in the door, the show
begins and you're part if it. Everything you come across in the event
is part of the show."
This year's menu is a
secret, but last year's offered acts such as "Live Sex Change",
"Stilettos of Death", "Nacho Snatcho" and "Granny High Leg Kick".
menu creates expectations, and we flirt a lot with sex and
suggestiveness," says Green, "but nine times out of 10 it's totally
innocent. It's all about not getting what you think you'll get."
Although the show is fun, it does demand audience participation. In
Sydney, Australia, on this year's Duckie tour, a Chinese delegation and
a young couple walked out in terror.
such as Green's reading of an extract from James Joyce's Ulysses, have
been known to have a sobering effect on hen parties, while others are
greeted with noisy roars. As Martinez says, "It can tip over the edge,
but we are seasoned cabaret performers and quite good at crowd control."
of the acts are quite sweet, except for "Be Insulted", where Martinez
blindfolds guests and mocks them. But, as she says, "A lot of people
seem to enjoy that kind of playful masochism."
|A bit of slap and tickle: Chris Green prepares for a show|
says, "Some of things we do are more demeaning than professional
lapdancing. One act is called "Emotional Striptease", but instead of
stripping off and showing our genitals, we will tell you any secret you
wish to know. People can't believe we'd do that, but we do."
show also exposes punters' attitudes to money. Although "Duckie
dollars" are no more legal than Monopoly money, says Casson, "People
get so involved that they believe they're real." And Green adds, "They
get so protective of their dollars ? it shows how we really define
ourselves by what we buy, especially around Christmas."
started nine years ago as a group of performance artists who specialise
in provocation. Their show began life as C'est Vauxhall! at the
Vauxhall Tavern in south London, a gay haunt. Green mockingly calls the
group "post-queer and pre-anti-gay".
shows were antagonistic. "Our shows had a fierce energy," says Casson.
"Everything was punky, scrappy and there'd be fights on stage, with
bottles flying." Duckie advertise themselves with the slogan "Drinking,
dancing, shagging and the arts", and call themselves "purveyors of
progressive working-class entertainment".
says that that "means we started off by making the kind of cabaret
shows that my mum and dad might have seen at the Irish Club in Hackney
? we want to use popular forms of music and comedy, but with a twist.
Theatre in London is quite middle-class, but it should be a really
great night out, rather than just a sombre or cerebral experience."
also stage other shows during the year, including a Gay Shame fair,
which satirises gay consumer culture during the annual Gay Pride event.
"Gay Shame was us going back to Duckie roots," says Martinez. "Some of
that was really quite outrageously hard-core." One act was called "Kiss
the Aids case".
Variety shows such as this are
the new avant-garde, and there's plenty to chose from. The Shunt
Collective's Tropicana uses nightclub elements in its show under the
railway arches of London Bridge station, while No Coat Fur Knickers
perform musical comedy at London's Marquee Club. Other acts have
enticing names such as Club Whoopee and Kitsch Lounge Riot. It's all
more Moulin Rouge than Theatre Royal.
of the new cabaret, C'est Barbican! is both clever and theatrically
pleasurable. Partly a joke on corporate entertainment, partly a
subversion of expectations, it offers 10-minute acts for the MTV
generation's short attention span. And, in its blatant camp and
drollery, it's also a very British night out.