‘It’s clubbing, but clubbing with content’

23 Jul 2015

Duckie co-creator Simon Casson and Artistic Director of Border Force Joshua Sofaer discuss the experimental club night’s latest show.

Experimental performance and arts collective Duckie have been blurring the boundaries between theatre, nightclubs and ‘arty show business’ for the last twenty years. Whether it is parties at their legendary weekly residency at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern or an Olivier Award-winning run at the Barbican, Duckie certainly know how to put on a great show… more often that not with a political or social message at its heart. Their latest work Border Force – a wry look at freedom of movement, xenophobia and national identity – is no different.

We want people to go and have a fantastic night out, but usually they’re about something. Normally, gay night clubs have a drag queen and they have a stripper and then they have the house music… but we’re trying something different just for this once,’ Casson explains.

I set the brief to Joshua to make a club that’s very contemporary and bold and political and of the moment. This is what he’s come up with.’

Border Force is the result – an immersive disko-show with the aim to ‘queer the borders’ firmly in its sight.

Members of the public come in and have their photograph taken in a kind of page of a passport - you stick your head through it in the way you would with the mermaid on Brighton Pier. You are then issued with an automatic randomly selected VISA to one of the four countries in Border Force and you get automatic rights to go straight to that country’, explains Sofaer.

That’s kind of one quarter of the club. If you want to get into one of the other three quarters, you have to go to the embassy of the country you wish to gain access to and you need to apply for another VISA… but you’ll have to do something in order to get that VISA.’

The four countries in question are Brazil, Russia, India and China - the BRIC economies, also called the ‘Big Four’, who are representative of the apparent shift in global economic power away from the developed G7 economies towards the developing world. So, to gain access into China club-goers will need to win a point against a Chinese ping pong champion, whilst crossing the border into Brazil will inevitably lead to you having a ‘brazilian’ from a trained sugar waxer.

‘Some people will just probably have a little bit of hair removed from somewhere,’ laughs Sofaer.

Overseeing the fun will be a Prime Minister – played by performer Amy Lamé – and a Queen – artist Dickie Beau – whilst in the centre of the venue will be a stage that plays host to entertainment from each of the countries represented.

We also have other things going on - one way to get a VISA if you don’t want to go to the embassy is to get married… find somebody that has a VISA for the country you want to have access to, marry them and gain access to the country. There’s a mobile roving minister that does that,’ says Sofaer.

So far, so fun. However, the foundations of this globalised clubland are based in more political territory. If you have a UK passport, you can be considered lucky. UK nationals have freedom of movement to 174 countries and territories (89% of the countries of the world), ranking the British passport 1st (tied with Finnish, German, Swedish and the US). By comparison, having an Afghanistan passport gives you free access to just 28. Border Force acts as a fun but thought provoking experiment which seeks to question the automatic assumption that borders are necessary for the safety and security of nation states. Freedom of movement is an issue that pertains especially to LGBTQI individuals and communities, in a world where it is illegal to be gay in 76 countries. Even countries that do not outlaw homosexuality have discriminatory legislation in place.

We are curbing your freedom of movement in a playful way for one night, to try and highlight the other side, the flip side of the conversation about immigration. There is also an issue about LGBTQI rights in the countries that are represented,’ says Sofaer.

Brazil is statistically the most dangerous place in the world to be trans. In Russia there is a lot of press about the so-called propaganda laws which have really curbed the ability to express yourself freely as LGBTQI individuals. Homosexuality is actually on the statute illegal in India. China’s an interesting one because China has a very strong kind of tradition of family - I think one of the laws of Confucius, which is what a lot of Chinese thought is based on, basically stipulates that one of your duties is to make a family. It’s not so much that there’s homophobia, like you can be gay if you want, but you still have to get married and have a kid.’

Duckie are not hoping to do justice to the complexities of the countries represented. Instead, each country name is firmly in inverted commas. While reducing historical, geographical and social realities to the ‘tourist snapshot’ or the ‘Sunday newspaper photo-spread’ they aim to suggest that national identity, like gender, is a kind of ‘drag’.

It’s something that you perform…you perform being English, you perform being Brazilian or you perform being Russian,’ suggests Sofaer.

That’s not to say it’s a kind of choice - it could be quite painful, it could be oppressive - but it is nevertheless a kind of cultural construct. If you stop believing in it, if you stop believing in that idea of nationhood, then this notion of borders and protection of those borders becomes…well you have to question the necessity of borders at all.’

To hear Joshua and Simon discuss Border Force in more depth, listen to the podcast here. Click here for tickets to the event.