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20 December 2006
The Class Club

Benedict Nightingale: The Times * * * *

As you might expect of an outfit that started in a Vauxhall pub and became a cult cabaret-cum-theatre company with the mad name of Duckie, this is not your usual Christmas fare. Indeed, the only seasonal figure who appears is a fat, grumpy Santa who wanders about abusively stereotyping each section of an audience that?s divided into three along class lines. ?Bloody Country Life,? he snarled at my lot. ?If it moves, kill it, and if it stands still, shag it.?

But I?d better explain all this, starting with why I was wearing a posh Jermyn Street shirt and yellow tie, and how I found myself seated beneath chandeliers at an elegantly laid table alongside people in dinner jackets and ? except for the striped-vest chappie who had opted for a sort of burglar chic ? other upmarket attire.

Like every member of the audience, I was asked to choose a class rating for the evening: lower, middle or upper. Opportunistically, I opted for the last and was rewarded on arrival at the Barbican Pit in two ways. First, I could at last look down on our comedy critic, Dominic Maxwell, who is about seven feet tall and had modestly elected to be middle-class. Secondly, a butler announced me as Lord Nightingale and maids pressed fizz on me before ushering me to what turned out to be a very formal and pretty decent dinner.

So where was the drama? Nowhere much yet. A maid dropped a tray and, rather unprofessionally, the butler yelled ?stupid girl? at her. Another maid sang a song consisting largely of the words ?top up their water?. There were noises from behind the red curtain that separated us nobs from hoi polloi. The middle classes did not sound as if they were having much fun, but, to judge by the gleeful hoots and the medley of raucous songs accompanying them, the proles were.

Then the curtains opened to reveal the plebs in their shellsuits, baseball caps and Christmas-cracker hats and, yes, they were enjoying themselves far more than the middle classes, who sat dolefully round little tables doing and saying little. A hostess in black plastic gave the working classes ?mystery prizes?, mainly lottery tickets. A young man jumped on to their table and did some hip-hop. And they all sang Slade?s Merry Christmas Everybody.

So what was the point? Well, the waiters and maids transmuted into performers, one waving a knife and shouting ?people like me are stifled and prevented from moving?, and others replying to his social indignation by singing ?it doesn?t matter what class you are as long as you?ve got class? and ?it doesn?t matter what socks you wear as long as you sock it to the world?.

And so Duckie?s send-up of the British social divide went happily on, leaving me as glad that I was temporarily upper-class as John Cleese was in the famous sketch he performed with the Two Ronnies. The proles had prawn cocktails, cans of beer and pop songs. We had smoked salmon, partridge, wine and Mozart. Need I say more?


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