A nativity-inspired supper club coming to Hackney has caused consternation on social media for its “poorface” portrayal of working class Cockneys.
Zebedee Productions‘ The Cockney’tivity: a Very Cockney Christmas Story, an “immersive dinner experience” to be held at Homerton boozer The North Star from 1-22 December, was announced today in an email to various news outlets, including the Citizen.
The press release details the plot of the £55-a-ticket festive drama, featuring “a young Joseph and his up-the-duff girlfriend Mary”, and the event’s page on the Design My Night site outlines their Christmas dinner menu, provided by North London pop-up Nanny Bill’s.
But hostility began to develop online when one of the press shots, depicting the play’s pregnant Virgin Mary lighting up a cigarette, was tweeted out by Tom Armstrong, editor of The Move magazine.
Just got a PR email about a Cockney themed immersive supper club in an “authentic Hackney pub”. It’s £55. This is one of the press shots. pic.twitter.com/Vws8XpiFu0
— Tom Armstrong (@tomdisco) October 18, 2017
Replies to that tweet range from incredulity to outright anger at the perceived stereotypical portrayal of working class East Enders, with some calling the production “poorface” and a “Hackneyed stereotype”.
Interesting. Their idea of an authentic cockney Christmas is alcoholic pregnancy, moody gold sales at the table and…er…sheep? pic.twitter.com/CLuV9YwaVz
— Rob Joyce (@RobJoyce156) October 18, 2017
the absolute nadir of moving into people’s neighbourhoods, turning their lives into comedy props and paying £55 to laugh at their expense
— Stan The Golden Boy (@tristandross) October 18, 2017
In a statement to the Citizen, Zebedee Productions’ artistic director and “working class girl” Zoe Wellman defended the “tongue-in-cheek” show: “We’ve been excited to explore the concept of The Cockney’tivity for a couple of years now, and we’ve always seen it as a proper celebration of East London culture through black comedy.
“My mum was born and bred in Gants Hill, and I’ve lived in Hackney for the last 10 years – the whole of the cast is from the East End and Darren [a partner in Zebedee] is a Wood Green boy through and through.
“We’re all really excited about what we’ve been working on, and as a small theatre and production company this is a project really close to home. Being from the area ourselves it was never a question of poking fun at a stereotype and those who live in the area.
“We admit that the photo we used is in poor taste, and we are really sorry for any offence caused.”
The Cockney’tivity, unlike the actual Christian nativity story, centres around the conception of Mary’s baby, “culminating in a raucous finale that will have guests dancing on the tables” according to the press release.
The cast includes actress Marianne Chase as Pat Butcher, reprising a role she performed in her Edinburgh Fringe solo show Av’ A Butcher’s.
Zebedee Productions has put on similar themed food nights before, including the rooftop Brixton Beach Boulevard last year, and the Halloween-inspired Twisted Toys Tea Party.
East London seems to be a lightning rod for controversial productions.
In 2014, Hoxton pop-up Death Row Dinners, which aimed to provide a “culinary twist” on the last meals of executed prisoners, was labelled “appallingly bad taste” by human rights organisation Amnesty International. The evenings were later cancelled by organisers, who cited threats to their personal safety and that of potential diners.
More recently, prison-themed bar Alcotraz on Brick Lane, staffed by “inmates” in orange jumpsuits, came under fire for what one critic called a “completely outrageous fetishisation of misfortune”.