I was in the office, at my part-time arts marketing job, when I checked my phone. I saw a flash of images. Rows of empty cake stands waiting patiently in line; towering boxes of Mr Kipling slices, fancies, and swirls; a disco ball being installed above a basketball hoop; a community support officer dancing on a podium; and two pairs of butt cheeks.
It was Tuesday 20 December and I was frantically trying to get to the end of my list as time crumbled into the chaotic acceleration that always happens just before Christmas. I was looking at Common Wealth Theatre’s Instagram story, getting spoilers from the first of three days of The Posh Club at St Mellons Hub in East Cardiff. I had been pulled out of my mundane workday and launched into my tomorrow; into a world of conga lines, risqué entertainment, and partying pensioners.
My thoughts drifted to what I was going to wear; an outfit I had planned weeks ago. Something I had worn to a wedding, with the additions of a big red woollen cardigan and a tinsel scrunchy. In an initial meeting I was told I needed to dress posh. This is not how I usually present myself and it’s a word that gives me some discomfort. Functioning as shorthand for class privilege, it feels removed from my daily life and I often use it negatively, as an insult or dismissal, to reject a system that excludes so many. For Duckie, the performing arts collective and creators of The Posh Club, it’s tongue in cheek; a simple but powerful four-letter tool to destabilise assumptions and give permission to their guests to indulge, to be glamorous, and to be valued.
The next morning I got ready, giving significantly more time, care, and attention to each step. I even sewed a button, which had been missing for over a year, back onto my coat. When I arrived I found the familiar faces of the Common Wealth team, along with volunteers dressed in black, and members of Duckie in their tuxes. Everyone was in the flow; busy repeating the preparation I had glimpsed through my phone the day before. After quick greetings and introductions, I embellished my outfit with blue, disposable, food prep gloves and began placing angel slices and matchmakers on tiers of partially filled cake stands.
Time continued its acceleration hurtling through conversations, quick questions, tea dance rehearsals, sound checks, a sellotape search, and whirlwind raffle prize gift wrapping, until, suddenly, people were arriving.
Invented by Duckie producer Simon Casson, and his sister Annie, as a treat for their mum and her friends, The Posh Club is now an established cabaret-come-afternoon tea for over 60’s with regular events in Crawley, Hackney, Hastings, Brighton and Elephant & Castle. This festive run was its first time in Wales, but it already felt like a well oiled machine.
Everyone was greeted, their coats carefully placed on rails, and shown to their tables, with Simon lending a supportive arm whenever needed. Larger groups were kept in close proximity, settled on adjacent tables, with a specially extended table for Woodcroft Care home, while small groups and individuals were jumbled up. Old friends, new friends, strangers, family, familiar and faintly familiar faces, all coming together.
Watching this ecosystem emerge, I was hesitant of where I could slot in. As a lone gatecrasher 30 years under the age bracket, I began to feel like a disruption. I thought about my family and what it would have been like to bring someone, how I could have shared my work with them and become a more authentic part of the audience. This thought was fleeting, as the physical distance and proximity to Christmas made it impractical. A proactive server seemed to sense my internal critique and quickly seated me with a group at random. I found myself amongst a choir. They were organised through the Arts and Health charity Re-Live, and had booked The Posh Club as their Christmas party.
Through the chatter an atmosphere of anticipation and uncertainty grew. Many didn’t know what to expect outside the basic programme, which simply listed the acts and when tea would be served. Volunteers, performing the role of Silver Service Hosts, circulated; pouring coffee and getting fastly familiar with those in their care. I was surprised how this was also extended to me, with my name being remembered and repeated in the quick exchanges, jokes, and acts of service that can so easily go unseen. Reflecting on this now, I realise that I did not reciprocate this remembrance as my memory fails to recollect the names of the faces I can so vividly see.
Once settled, we were catapulted through the programme, starting with the cake dance. The servers paraded and posed with precariously loaded cake stands; teasing us with treats that were just out of reach, weaving between tables, climbing onto podiums, and infusing our cakes with the spirit of cabaret. In the applause they finally came to rest on our tables. We all tucked in. Sandwiches arrived and more coffee was poured in what was, seemingly, a conventional afternoon tea.
Suddenly our attention shifted as local impersonator Li Harding entered as Shirley Bassey, bellowing covers of Get this Party Started and Light My Fire. Tentative dancing began led by our hosts and servers, gently signalling that we could move our bodies beyond our chairs. Then, back in our seats, the uncertainty returned as Pink Suits took to the stage for the first of three performances. With sailor, Western, and Dirty Dancing inspired acts that got increasingly more daring, the non-binary duo confronted what is culturally considered appropriate elderly entertainment. They danced, stripped, shared spit, and performed the infamous lift, while we had the time of our lives, in an act of strength that was significantly more captivating than Patrick Swayze. They brought alternative, queer nightlife to the daylight of St Mellons Hub without fear of causing offence, only confidence in the decision to challenge the audience by bringing elderly care and the resistance of binary gender expectations into the same space.
Like any group assembled based on their age bracket, the responses varied, with some taking pure delight each time Pink Suits returned to the stage, while others showed more trepidation or visible discomfort. This shows how The Posh Club resists the assumption that older people have a shared collective interest. It recognises that its members have lives that can be more alternative or subversive than younger generations give them credit for, and that, just as some people there would’ve rather not seen a nipple in public, others would have similarly strong reactions to having a knitting group, Casablanca, or an ABBA compilation inflicted on them.
This generalisation reminded me of trends in community projects. How activities often proclaim “everyone is welcome” when, in reality, this often ends up with events that fail to represent anyone. Common Wealth Theatre and Duckie work to defy this generalisation, making use of deliberate exclusion to create meaningful events that can begin to meet the complex array of needs, desires, and interests of their different communities.
Back in the hall the party continued. With a switch from feathers to sequins, Shirley Bassey became Tina Turner as more and more people filled the floor, our collective confidence growing with every song. A conga lined formed as “Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot!” flooded our eardrums. There were heart attack jokes and age affirming aspirations from Azara, our Master of Ceremonies. Those stubbornly staying in their seats were provoked by their friends in acts of playful peer pressure that made the moments when they finally stood up all the more glorious. Rejoicing with cheers and even more enthusiastic dance moves.
Everything crescendoed, fueled by the joy and celebration in the room, ending on an incredible high that left me dazed and feeling slightly tipsy, despite only drinking alcohol free prosecco. It was disorientating and exhilarating, and it felt inconceivable that The Posh Club isn’t taking place everywhere all the time. I fully felt the power of partying. Its strength as a collective action; its spirit of euphoria and optimism; and its ability to imagine alternative ways of living and being together.
It was impossible to witness The Posh Club, and the sheer number of older people in an indoor space, and not to reflect on the previous two years. The excitement and joy in the room felt almost unimaginable in comparison to the anxiety and fear that the pandemic had brought to the last two Christmases. I was reminded of an article I read back in February 2021 by Sophie K Rosa, In Defence of Sex and Parties, which responded to the backlash against those who voiced their desire for the nightlife that was lost to the pandemic. It celebrated the importance of partying as resistance, as an essential form of self-expression, and as a powerful blend of celebration and activism. While this focused on young people’s experience during the pandemic, it seems to also capture the loss and longing that comes with ageing, where parties, nightlife, and social activities become less frequent and harder to access.
While the pandemic may have given us a snapshot into the isolation that comes with ageing, it is easy for the younger population to avoid giving it too much thought. It can lack immediacy, especially with all the other living crises that are affecting what we can do each day. It can feel scary to ask the question of what your own elderly care will look like by the time you get there, but in doing so we can be critical of the limitations that we can already see. While we all have basic needs, we are all more than that, and we also need things to look forward to; occasions to put on our best clothes; places to meet friends, new and old; and opportunities to dance!
It was always clear that The Posh Club was not for me. While I was lucky enough to be in the room and feel the energy it creates, for the older people of St Mellons and Trowbridge it was so much more. So now, I will step aside and leave you with a comment left by the daughter in law of an audience member.
“Linda made a male friend when she came, he was sat on her table, she took him to the widows club with her to meet new people. He said in those two days he had more conversations with people than he had had in the last two years since his wife had died. You really don’t know how much this means to people.”
Article by Sophie Lindsey