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24 December 2006
A class act in three sittings

Susannah Clapp: The Observer

It's like a duchess farting in public. Each Christmas the Barbican lets slip from under its well upholstered skirts a camp cabaret from the disconcerting company called Duckie. They've previously brought burlesque to a glitter-covered Pit; this year, the subject is social class, with dinner thrown in.

When you buy your ticket to Duckie: The Class Club, you choose your status (and are invited to dress accordingly). You pay 40 if you sign up for upper class, where you get champagne and canapes, poker-faced waiters (who stretch the napkins out as if they're about to garrotte you), a dropped-tray disaster and high-grade operatic warbling. If you go for lower - where there were baseball caps and towering heels (and one diner in full maid rig-out, wielding a feather duster), you shell out 14.99 and have prawn cocktails and a carvery; 'Santa Baby' is played very loudly, and a small but talented white rapper walks down the middle of the table. And if you opt for middle class (25) you get - well, pissed off. In what seems to be planned as revenge on the theatre-going bourgeoisie, middle is the quietest area of the room: they get gastro-pub cuisine (with the thing you really want wiped off the blackboard), a course in anger management, some contemporary dance and not much action. You're made to feel dull.

This is the theatrical equivalent of conceptual art: the idea counts more than what's done with it. Unfairness is part of the point: it's a demonstration of stereotypes - and of that pervasive feeling that the real party is happening round the corner. Until the curtains are finally swept back, the three classes, invisible to each other, are taunted by the noise from next door. But for one moment a window opens in the upper class area and shows the toffs the proles in paper hats, peering in.

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