A Black Elvis, a white Elvis and an Asian Elvis walk into a church hall…
These characters are not part of a bad joke, but the star billing at Posh Club, a raucous Ritz-inspired tea party for Hackney’s older folk.
And the first rule of Posh Club? “No riff-raff,” declares producer Simon Casson, who is running the show for ten weeks at St Paul’s West church hall in Stoke Newington.
Dress code is ‘very posh’ and willfully obliging punters arrive dressed to the nines in velvet evening gowns, tuxedos and splendidly shiny shoes. Apparently, in Hackney, statement hats are de rigeur.
Tickets are £3 and get you a ‘classic’ afternoon tea with fresh cream scones served by waiters in dickie bows and not a soggy cucumber sandwich in sight.
After tea comes the talent, or as Casson calls them the “turns” (“as in do you do a turn, dear?”) Some of the acts sharing the stage with Elvis include a lesbian couple with a sex change act from Upper Clapton (the nudity was OK’d by St Paul’s ‘jazz man’ Reverend Niall Weir) and a university professor with an alter-ego Tammy WhyNot.
Acrobats from Mimbre, based in Stoke Newington also feature, as well as a Bollywood Dance Group and “London’s finest flappers”, the Bees Knees, who specialise in 1920’s dances such as the Charleston.
Sarah Khan took her mother Sonia, 79, along to the show. She said: “I thought it would be brilliant because she’s been in the wars lately. She absolutely loved it.
“The church was done up beautifully. There were china tea-sets, fresh cream scones and cakes that came on a silver tray with different tiers. Everyone looked so elegant.”
Casson grew up on Stelman Close Estate, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s, until he was “stolen away” across the Thames to Stockwell. Twenty years ago he founded maverick theatre group Duckie at the Vauxhall Tavern, where its gay club nights have become legendary within the LGBTQI community.
Posh Club’s previous run was in provincial Crawley in Sussex, where “only four people danced”. Casson is still shell-shocked by the reception it has received on his home turf.
“In Crawley it was very reserved, conservative with a small ‘c’. In Hackney, it’s totally wild, very spirited,” he says.
“It is very elegant and respectable. They have posh afternoon tea but then the shows come on and they start going a bit ‘wooh!’. I think it is called a ‘Hackney thing’. In Sussex they don’t do that.”
The thinking behind Posh Club is simple: “Its about keeping people active. In the city it’s cold, it’s dark and you think ‘I don’t want to go out’. In order to be happy you need to go out, you need to press the flesh.”
“This is old Hackney, it is about the people who have been here since the fifties, not about the new ones opening boutiques. Where do you find old Hackney? At the Posh Club.”