The Barbican - purveyor of Beckett festivals, Shakespeare staples and coruscating satires on the Troubles. And one of the last places you'd expect to find an act called "Miss Kick Does Seven Cocks". But along with "Nacho Snatcho", "Live Sex Change" and "Stilettos of Death" (to name but a few), these are the delights on offer at the RSC's former London home this Yuletide. The kids would love it. But they're not allowed in. So grown-ups, this one's for you...
C'est Barbican! began life as C'est Vauxhall! (playing at Victorian watering hole the Royal Vauxhall Tavern), a recherché vaudeville show for the dedicated alt.theatre-goer. That it has now found its home in such a mainstream establishment says much for the eagle-eyed commissioner at the Barbican, but might not impress the Duckie devotees who appreciate this company for its championing of London's more fringe elements. Previous shows, like Blowzabellas, Drabs, Mawks and Trugmoldies and Vauxhall Pleasure Promenade, have explored the city's historical underbelly via well- and not so well-trodden backstreets and byways. So what, you may wonder, is Duckie doing in the Pit? Well, to all intents and purposes, it's having a pretty good time - entertaining the after-work, pre-Christmas crowd with table-top skits and camp little stage shows. And thanks to Simon Vincenzi's transformational design job, the Pit now looks far more like the Moulin Rouge than a serious theatre space.
The deal is this: you book a table (for up to eight people), peruse the à la carte performance menu, and then place your order with a waiter - who is also most keen to ply you with cheap Duckie champagne (a useful, and arguably essential ingredient in the evening's proceedings). The "shows" cost different amounts of "Duckie dollars", which the performers scoop from your stash like a lap dancer who's just left a lap. The effect is deliberate. "It's a joke at the expense of corporate entertainment and sex entertainment," one of the performer's commented recently. Try telling that to the drunken suits clearly stashing a few mental images away for later use.
And there's the rub. C'est Barbican! is attracting an entirely different crowd from the one that flocked to C'est Vauxhall!. The show's irreverent humour is lost on certain punters who seem only a pint away from slipping a fiver into the performers' ironic G-strings (they're ironic when worn on top of flesh-coloured body stockings, believe me). It's clearly a hen night favourite too, though that kind of raucousness mostly adds to the atmosphere. It would, after all, be galling to lie spread-eagled on a table-top passing nachos with your feet, and get no reaction.
But if it's having something of an identity crisis, I don't think anyone's too bothered. The gratuitous merchandising which Duckie flog with an arch eyebrow raised could well turn into the new Jerry Springer badges - made in irony, worn with pride. And there's still a thrill from having a performer, literally a nose away, making phallic balloons, doing a card trick or demonstrating how to dance with a Zimmer frame - just for you and your mates.
It's deliberately lightweight stuff - and sometimes the brevity of the acts can leave you feeling a bit short-changed - but in the season of conspicuous consumption and forced bonhomie, Duckie's show is a welcome injection of mischief.
'C'est Barbican!': Pit, London EC2 (0845 120 7550), to 4 JanReuse content