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1 January 2004
Titillating treats percolate through the stuffiness

Dominc Cavendish: Daily Telegraph

I still cringe at the memory of an attempt a few years back to mount a string of satirical soirees at the National Theatre. Metropolis Kabarett, as it was called, involved the transformation of one of the building's upper levels into a cafe, and consisted of topical skits and songs in a Brecht/Weill mould. An experience less saturated with sex and danger it would be hard to imagine.

What a relief to find that a similar sterile fate has not befallen C'est Barbican, a cabaret evening that aims to turn the Pit theatre into a "Christmas performance palais". Mounted by Duckie, a club that sprang up in The Vauxhall Tavern - a working-class, defiantly anti-Soho watering hole - the whole occasion does at least start with authenticity on its side. Even so, there's no underestimating how deadening an arts centre's ambience can be.

However, Duckie - performers Ursula Martinez, Christopher Green, Marisa Carnesky and Miss High Leg Kick - quite simply refuse to cede an inch of space to any percolating stuffiness. In a saucy, kitsch mini-carnival of arty happenings, they turn the idea of a sex club on its head to delicious, delirious effect.

Welcomed by waiters into a murky cafe interior, punters are directed to one of a dozen tables and invited to choose from the menu as they swill champagne, puff on a complimentary cigar and natter to the strangers sitting next to them. What will it be? "Professor Rigidlips and Friends", "Girl on Girl Mexican Wrestling", "Boobelina"? Each act is priced in Duckie dollars and with a maximum spend of 40 per table, that works out as about six treats in total.

As the performers, in flesh-coloured bodywear, are sent scurrying this way and that to meet audience requirements, you swiftly realise you're in for intellectual striptease rather than the real thing.

Sometimes, as with "Natcho Snatcho", where you're invited to dip a nacho in a bowl of salsa wedged in a very private part of the female anatomy, things veer towards the X-rated. And the talented guest star Lucifire, whose fortes include hammering a nail through her nose and jumping barefoot in a bucket of broken glass, introduces a visceral element of circus freakery.

But, for the most part, the all-too-brief solo spots play irreverently with expectations: "Party Party" turns out to entail a quick singalong to The Okey-Cokey, "Golden Throat" resembles a speedy group karaoke session. You may leave feeling slightly cheated; but that, I think, is the show's camp, artful point.

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