Laura Wade’s POSH satirises The Bullingdon Club, an exclusive Oxbridge supper club that Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson were members of in their university days.
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Produced by The Royal Court and showing at Duke of York’s Theatre, POSH is the gripping, darkly comic satire about Oxford University blue-bloods who generally despise the British underclass – particularly anyone who keeps cheese in the fridge. The play – which opens with an oily Tory Peer giving his impressionable nephew advice on how to make a splash at the latest ‘Riot Club’ dinner, and ends with the same oiler smoothly attempting to cover-up a nightmare evening – is wonderfully written by Wade and masterfully directed by Lyndsey Turner.
After an entertaining start in which a series of aristocratic paintings come to life and burst musically out of their frames as the members of the ‘Riot Club’, Wade gradually introduces us to ‘The Toffs’: the impressionable new boy, the desperate hopeful and the impotent “President”, overawed by the domineering bullies. Wade firmly establishes a hierarchy as the aggressive “banter” begins to seep through and it becomes clear that the evening is solely geared towards getting “chateaued” and trashing the dining room they’ve hired for the occasion. By the end of the first half, the boys’ tempers are hotter than a King Alfred potato because the 10-bird roast (symbolising the ten in the Club) is missing a guinea-fowl and the prostitute they’ve hired refuses to deliver. The first act ends with a sublimely disturbing rant from Leo Bill (Alistair Ryle), which left audience members shifting awkwardly over their pre-ordered interval champers.
On press night, ex-government surgeon of spin Alastair Campbell chaired a debate about class in our society, musing the connection between privilege and success. Campbell was joined by Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris (and three other brothers, all old Etonians), plus Luciana Berger, Labour MP, and Dr. James Tilley, Oxford don. Both Johnson and Campbell agreed that the play had been hard to watch. Johnson had walked out at the interval, admitting that POSH was just too close to home, while Campbell said the knowledge that “people like that were running the country” was not at all funny, despite frequent laughs (or “laffs” as the Burnley-born Blair-babe pronounced it) from his fellow audience members.
Like Campbell, you may well leave the theatre feeling genuinely concerned for the state of our society and equally gob-smaked that these wealthy, arrogant toe-rags are now in positions of governmental power. Or you might see the funny side. Wade and Turner superbly create believable characters – one of whom is a fantastic parody of Boris – and the egotism, arrogance and darkly brewing undertones are believable throughout. But most of the characters appear without redemption, as black-and-white as their tuxes, creating a lack of empathy between audience and Rioters. Regardless of your opinion on blue suits and floppy hair, POSH will make an impact, and is well worth an evening of your time.
The Royal Court’s POSH is showing at Duke of York’s Theatre until 4th August 2012.
Text: Daniel Kilpatrick and Lily Knight