|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?