“How do you make an Eton Mess?”
“Tell him he’s going to Bristol…”
A re-vamped, re-worked, more politically contemporary Posh has hit the West End this summer. Laura Wade’s audacious comedy has been masterfully revised to reflect the elitist background that haunts our current cabinet.
The darkly satirical piece documents an evening with the Riot Club (based on the notorious Bullingdon Club): a collection of Oxford students from top public schools whose inheritance is squandered reaching heights of debauchery that, really, Vudu’s champagne regulars could only dream of.
The simplicity of the script negates the need for a large budget, as York’s DramaSoc displayed in their interpretation of the play during the spring term. But West End money does transform the piece into a blockbuster. Topping the bill was the fantastically superfluous and extravagant scene-change in Act 1: The floor-to-ceiling portrait gallery that provides the backdrop for the first scene rises to unveil the life-size (and, in fact, living) subjects of the portraits, dressed in full hunting regalia, dancing to “I’m Sexy and I Know It”. The only thing that could have made it any more ridiculous is if they had donned wigs and begun sword-fighting on the roof.
Oh hang on… That happens too. Accompanied by acapella covers of Tinie Tempah, Maroon 5, and other chart-toppers, the aesthetics of this structurally bare script are inspired.
The opening act is a raucous furore – a divinely created, hysterical portrait of the upper class. You can forget YOLO. YOLO is for people whose schools couldn’t afford the Latin syllabus. The rousing cry of “LET’S CARPE SOME FUCKING DIEM” provokes as much laughter with the characters as at them. This rapturous opening, however, serves to highlight how fine the line is between playful snobbery and outright classism. The final monologue of Act One marks the divide between frivolous comedy and a deeply utilitarian drama. The audience’s howls of laughter regress to awkward, nervous giggles as Ryle (the character somewhere between the victim and the antagonist) proclaims “I’m fucking SICK of poor people”, unsure whether this flagrantly bigoted view is for comedic effect, or possibly a dig at every single member of the audience’s bank statements.
Act Two sees a deepening of the class chasm, dispelling the idea that beliefs of entitlement could ever be a component of comedy: “It’s not about the money.” “Oh but it is. It’s always about the money”, comes the reply as the Landlord attempts to chastise the club for ruining his pub. There is no laughter this time. The audience are well aware that amidst their hyperbolic ramblings of ‘poshness’ they are right. They know that society both loathes them and yet hopes, in some way, to be them.
The movement into the dark latter-half of Act 2 lacked the gravity that could have allowed an audience to be stunned into silence in the space of one well-delivered line. It may have been because second time round, I was expecting to be shocked, shaken, and questioning of my political views – or perhaps the hilarity of the first act was so unmatchable, that I was left still feeling slightly joyous at the end. A wholly redundant by-product, considering the play’s political potential.
The dominance the Riot Club display in their termly jaunts is scaled up to a scary size, once the comfortable confines of college are left behind. Realising that many of today’s politicians effortlessly strut down the corridors of power, leaving those outside their social perimeter gasping for breath (imagine, if you like, David Cameron with a wheely-case on one of those flat escalator belts they have in airports, with John Prescott trying to haul a suitcase down the side), I left the theatre undecided as to whether I should marry an Earl, or live forever in a commune where I could never be reached by the stench of dirty, dirty politics.
Posh ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London until 4th Aug