Lifestyle review: Beautiful Octopus Club

Mark Drinkwater looks ahead to a clubnight for people with learning disabilities as the Royal Festival Hall plays host

Beautiful Octopus Club

Royal Festival Hall, London

7pm, 9 October

Now in its 50th year, the Beautiful Octopus Club is something of an institution in the learning disability calendar. The quarterly cabaret night is run by Heart’n’Soul, an arts organisation led by artists with learning disabilities.

The club is, in part, a response to some of the discrimination that people with learning disabilities face when they try to get into a mainstream venue. It also aims to raise awareness of disability arts.

This Friday, the club moves a few miles north from its usual home, the Albany arts centre in Deptford, to the Royal Festival Hall, on London’s South Bank.

Revellers from far and wide

Earlier this year I went to check out what all the fuss was about. Revellers come from far and wide, evidenced by the plethora of local authority logos on the minibuses filling the sidestreets near the venue.

Interspersed between the buses are the occasional stretched limo for those who’ve decided to pool their personal budgets and travel in style.

Inside, there’s a great party vibe in this most friendly of clubs, so it’s not surprising that the clubnight has developed a massive following. The club is always packed to capacity, with up to 1,000 enthusiastic clubbers dressed to the nines in the latest trends. In my work garb, I felt distinctly underdressed.

Dancefloor was buzzing

It works on many levels. All the performers, along with many of those working as technical staff, are people with learning disabilities. The regular Octopus DJs will help keep the dancefloor buzzing, while those who over-exert themselves can take advantage of the chill-out area for rest and recuperation.

This week’s club has the added attraction of a digital funfair and a burlesque show. But for me, the highlight of the evening promises to be Heart’n’Soul’s resident pop-diva, Lizzie Emeh, who will perform songs from her new album Loud and Proud. This eclectic mix of entertainment is the key to the Beautiful Octopus Club’s success.

Like all the best clubs, revellers will find themselves wanting to be in several rooms at once.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

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This articles appears in the 8 October 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Octopus tentacles reach out”

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