The Pit, London EC2
Opened 14 December, 2004

Virtually everyone seems to order the self-explanatory "Office Party". The hardy souls who opt for "James Joyce's Ulysses" are rewarded with an ecstatic, virtuoso rendition of part of Molly Bloom's soliloquy from that novel. It's best if I give no details about the one that involves everyone in your group being given splash-proof capes. I'm referring to various acts on the menu at C'est Barbican!, the remarkable creation from alternative cabaret group Duckie which won Best Entertainment at last year's Olivier Awards and now returns for a second Christmas season at The Pit.

It's part-restaurant, part-table dancing club, and other parts that shouldn't be named in polite company. Each table of eight is given 45 "Duckie dollars" and a menu of acts on offer from the four regular performers plus the night's "specials" from a guest performer. Each act is priced, from one to ten DDs. (Some have a sliding price scale for variants: Ursula Martinez's Wicked Witch of the West impression costs extra if you want her to throw in some Marilyn Monroe and/or do it in Spanish.) Quite literally, you pays your money and you takes your choice. The body-stockinged performers, who also include Kazuko Hohki of Frank Chickens and Chris Green (this time not portraying C&W drag act Tina C), circulate and do their stuff. In the intervals when they're not at your table, you have the shameless pleasure of rubber-necking at what your neighbours have purchased. Drinks and smokes can also be ordered from a team of capable waiters and a solicitous maitre d'.

It could be chaotic, but somehow director Mark Whitelaw and the company have sorted out the logistics so that it runs apparently smoothly. It could be thoroughly depraved (and to be honest, bits of it are; this is a show, after all, that originated at noted gay cabaret venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern), but the performers make it feel naughtily playful rather than downright filthy, even when executing unmistakably phallic balloon sculptures (all of which, incidentally, dress to the left). Then, in sudden and stark contrast, the final phase of "Emotional Striptease", when a performer undertakes to answer all questions with complete honesty for three minutes, is potentially searing.

It's frankly impossible to convey the atmosphere of the 90-minute show. Suffice to say that even those like me whose hackles rise at the prospect of audience participation have a hoot and a half during an evening that's intimate in almost every sense of the word.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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