C’est Vauxhall is the latest outing from cabaret/performance anarchists collectively known as Duckie and features a series of five-minute shows performed for table-sized audiences. Punters are given $50 in Duckie money from which to choose showettes from a menu of nibblies including Live Sex Change, James Joyce’s Ulysses and even the chance to hear Robert De Niro play the Wicked Witch of the West.

Duckie member Christopher Green (occasionally a.k.a. Tina C) said the show is challenging for audiences, but not because the work itself is confronting in that performance art way.

It’s just because you have to choose what you want to see, Green said. You go through all these emotional highs and lows. People go, -˜I want that one, it was better than what we ordered.’ They beg you; they say I don’t want this any more, I want what you’ve just done over there.

It’s a terrible emotional journey the audience go through, with tantrums towards us, laughs Green.

If the end product of Duckie sounds a touch avant-garde, its genesis was somewhat more conventional. Christopher Green and company received an Arts Council grant to spend a weekend in Paris at the Moulin Rouge to try and osmose some good old-fashioned music hall entertainment. Green’s other source of inspiration (which brought back disturbing memories) is the 1970s BBC variety show The Good Old Days.

I want to bring The Good Old Days back to British television, when everyone wore those tremendously fantastic 70s versions of Edwardian costumes, Green says. Sitting there saying, -˜I’m top-to-toe in Edwardian costume,’ and you go, -˜No, you’re not, it’s made out of crimplene. And with very flary trousers.’

There is this huge resurgence in traditional music hall and variety, burlesque, whatever you want to call it, in London. It’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time but it definitely, definitely is happening now. A lot of people are doing it, he says.

And I just love going to see stuff where you’ve got, I don’t know, someone doing ballet, followed by somebody sticking something up their nose, followed by someone singing something operatic. That to me is a good night out, he laughs.

C’est Vauxhall seems to have successfully hijacked the genre, giving the old codger that is vaudeville a makeover that blends the popular and the artsy. The show won Time Out magazine’s Show of the Year for 2003 and an Olivier nomination. In London over Christmas it was impossible to get a ticket and Green says the last season was sold out two weeks before opening night.

Certainly what Duckie’s always been about for the last six, seven years is that you can do performance art, you can do things with a message, with a bit of thought behind it and political even and it doesn’t have to be really earnest, Green says. You don’t have to take yourself too seriously; you can mix those two things. And that’s what we’ve been about as a loose ensemble all that time. Duckie includes Ursula Martinez, a performer who has demonstrated this mix of the serious and the absurd twice before during Mardi Gras, with A Family Outing in 1999 and Show Off in 2001.

The critics and audiences love it, though Green admits his fan base isn’t altogether convinced, preferring his alter ego Tina C.

Occasionally I get the feeling of like, -˜What’s he doing being artsy?’ and, -˜You’re a little bit up yourself. Just do a bit of cabaret, you’ll be fine,’ he laughs.

Sydney audiences this time can choose either Christopher, or as Green hopes, both.

C’est Vauxhall runs from 18 to 28 February at The Studio, Sydney Opera House. Tickets range from $28 to $30. Phone 9250 7777 for bookings or visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com/thestudio for info.

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