Theatre review - Posh

Dir: Lyndsay Turner

Duke of York’s Theatre

RT: 2 hours 30

Running until 4 August 2012

Laura Wade’s darkly comic play about Oxford-educated toffs first opened at the Royal Court during the 2010 general election campaign. It now transfers to the West End, with some new cast members and a few updates to reflect the Tories’ return to power. It’s a timely revival given the recent budgetary cuts that have forced a focus on the glaring chasm between the haves and have nots and the ongoing revelations of the Leveson Inquiry.

An elite group of Oxford undergraduates meet in the dining room of a gastro pub for a night of extravagant debauchery. This exclusive dining club, based on the notorious Bullingdon Club (boasting David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson amongst its former members), is not simply an overindulgent student body out for a good time. Its secret affiliates are clearly meant to represent the next generation of right-wing political animals.

Members of the Riot Club live up to their name. They are a grotesque bunch, with few redeeming features. This tendency towards caricature is perhaps the play’s main weakness, but Wade also amply demonstrates that, whatever your social standing, lads out on the lash is a recipe for disaster. The hooliganism of these privileged, upper-class diners, fuelled by fine wines and champagne, is no less brutal than the violence that erupted during the 2011 riots. Driven by an acute sense of entitlement, the men also display a profound misogyny. They hire a prostitute, and become belligerent when she declines to service them all. They then assault their waitress, before trying to buy themselves out of trouble.

There are some wonderful musical interludes in Lyndsay Turner’s high energy- production, featuring the entire cast singing a cappella. There is also plenty of humour in the strange, ritualistic games the men play, their elaborate formal dress, the childish sparring and ridiculous drinking challenges. Ultimately, though, Posh’s most resonant message is a political one. The students spend their time together complaining about Labour’s legacy, bemoaning the fact that many of them have been forced to open their country estates to the public, and venting their spleen against the impoverished. Their various tirades reveal how out of touch they are with reality. As the ten-strong party become increasingly inebriated, events gradually spiral out of control and end in a unexpected, senseless act of violence.

It’s a great ensemble piece and the casting is spot-on. Leo Bill is particularly good as the odious Alistair Ryle whose hatred of the poor swiftly translates into violent malevolence against anyone he considers his inferior and Tom Mison also shines as the Club’s president who tries to retain a shred of decency during the resulting mayhem.

Anthony Ward’s set design is also stunning, managing to encompass a London club, the pub dining room and a set of inanimate portraits through which the characters burst into life. Posh contains many uncomfortable truths but laces these with humour. Its welcome arrival in the West End is sure to challenge and entertain audiences in equal measure.

Originally published by Exeunt