Tuesday, 4 April 2017
While Posh strikes Peter Barker as less than groundbreaking in its themes, he nevertheless enjoys the nuances in a vigorous gender swapping production.
by Laura Wade
Pride And Prejudice
The plot is simple; Riot Club members are feasting at a country pub near Oxford, where the young men intend to behave very badly, picking up where they had left off two terms previously, before a national media exposé
Laura Wade's play was first performed by an all-male cast in 2010, focussing on a self-styled elite Oxbridge dining society. The unique selling point in the current revival is its all female crew playing a very male cast.
The Riot Club is inspired by the sophomore antics of the Bullingdon Club, whose former members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. Much of the fascination at its première was trying to discern how much was satirical - and how much documentary.
During the play, the Club prepares to discipline a member who, by breaking its code of silence towards outsiders, has brought unwanted attention to its antics. Another student is newly initiated into the group. To cap it all, there is also a power struggle between the club president and the alpha chimp member of the group.
In some ways, Posh has been overtaken by events. At its première, the dining club boys running our national affairs was just a prospect. Now we can now look back at the reality of their time in government.
While Wade's work is clearly an exaggeration of the club's excesses, the fake news' era has given us the apocryphal story of Cameron and the dead pig's head in which many wanted to believe.
Anyway, throw in a sex worker, a pub landlord trying to earn a living and his attractive waitress daughter with a particular reason why the Riot Club boys can't pull academic rank and you have a lively two and half hour comedy drama.
Director Cressida Carré extracts the maximum shock value and wit from Wade's script. Designer Sara Perks's set cleverly uses a revolve as the diners banter round a circular table.
On reflection, the behaviour in Posh isn't just confined to toffs. I'm not upper class but I did play team sports for many years. I recognise an exaggerated version of our own antics.
But Wade's play makes the claim, even if unoriginal, that this behaviour is bonding and binding, creating loyalties and obligations lasting a lifetime. When it comes to my sporting teammates and I, it's not significant. But it's a different matter when such people come to run the country.
While Posh proves the English can laugh (with horror) at themselves and their government, it still plays into a snobbish obsession with aristocracy. Posh feels not so much hard-hitting as nostalgic, harking back to the stage, literary and movie tradition of The Importance of Being Earnest, Brideshead Revisited, Another Country and If.
So, the play only partially hits the target; it is handicapped by its very English preoccupation with class and lacks an analysis of money and power in our times which affects all of us far more.
Nevertheless, the all-female ensemble cast riot with wit, boldness and verve. Gabby Wong excels as Riot Club president James Leighton-Masters, whose well-bred manners and fundamental decency are at odds with the ruthlessness needed to preserve his presidency. Serena Jennings gives a visceral sense of the vicious and violent as Alistair Ryle. As appealing novice member Ed Montgormery, Verity Kirk brings humour.
All-female casts should really not be an exception now. Long may this kind of gender swapping continue to shed fresh light on past texts! I have some issues with the play but this production is, above all, great entertainment catching the zeitgeist of the early 21st century and deserves a green light.