Our night begun by whispering a password into the ear of a cloaked man standing in an unmarked doorway, on the fringes of trendy East London. I was told to enter and to do as I was told. Perhaps we had encountered before…
We entered through a candle-lined entrance hall, where we were given a playing card which was to determine our starting place in this game of trust, deceit and betrayal. Taking my place at the head of the table, having drawn a King, I was feeling pretty smug. I was able to enjoy fine foods, such as salmon en croute and grilled artichokes, although I had done nothing yet to earn them, while less fortunate souls at the other end of this fifty-seat banquet table, pushed around cold porridge and stale bread. Oblivious to the hard-knock life of my competitors down the other end, it was only through rumours creeping up the table that I was aware of the chicken feet they were served, while we enjoyed oysters.
But my luck wasn’t to last as my opponent pulled out the dagger and while she rose to glory, I fell to the mediocre middle of the table. I don’t know what went wrong, I thought we bonded. I listened to her talk about the mundane details of her morning commute and even managed to feign interest.
People with faces honest as cherubs, stabbed in the back while their innocent opponents sat open-mouthed, gaping at the vicious and opportunistic nature of their so-called new best friend. This game sheds a brutal light on all those social climbers looking to get ahead no matter the cost to others. A fun evening of socialising with an eclectic mix of London’s switched-on, tuned -in, finger-on-the-pulse, trendy crowd, also turned out to be an interesting look at the character of your counterparts and the means people would go to, to achieve ‘social status’, even just for a night.
But it’s just a game I hear you say? Not when people’s rumbling stomachs and accustomed palates are involved. As the hours ticked on, the atmosphere started to turn sour at the losers end, while their counterparts at the top ate, drunk and were increasingly merrier.
Brother Timothy and Brother Jonathan were fabulous. They captured the audience and held the evening together with authority, playing hosts and games masters. Complaints of lack of social mobility were murmured from the bottom end; perhaps some teething problems of this slightly complex game. A little more pace may be required to get people playing more frequently, providing more opportunity to move up from humble beginnings.
If I understood correctly, then the rules went something like this: when you feel you have created a rapport with the guest sitting opposite you, you may both drain your glasses of port and place your playing card on top to signify you are ready to play. The games masters come round and give you each a wooden tablet which on one side displays a goblet and on the other a dagger. If both opponents display the goblet, you both move up the table five places. If both opponents display the dagger they both move down the table 5 places. If one opponent displays the dagger and the other a goblet, the dagger bearer moves up ten places while the trusting goblet displayer moves down 10.
It was an unusual way to spend an evening and a fascinating look into the psychology of people’s behaviour when faced with such decisions. The food, although great for the winners, wasn’t the highlight, instead it was the interesting mix of people and the thrill of playing a theatrical game full of twists and turns in an atmospheric setting. A true London experience.
The banquets will be held monthly and the next one is on 19th October. You can book your place here.
Photography by Will Edgecombe