Types of venues , Theatre
Until Sat Aug 4 2012
© Johan Persson
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Thu May 24 2012
White male public school boys dominate UK politics. So the West End transfer of Laura Wade's Royal Court hit 'Posh', which admits you to one depraved night in the company of the Oxford University 'Riot Club', was bound to hit a nerve. Its topicality is one reason why this supercilious black comedy – featuring ten of the best young actors we've seen onstage since 'The History Boys' – has been misrepresented, as if it sits in po-faced judgment on the rich.
Wade's play does show ten of the country's most eligible bachelors getting 'chateaued' on fine wine at their annual blowout. But it's mainly a blast – despite being served with an overegged chaser in which the vilest of the boys is rewarded with a fast track into the Tory Party for actions that would forever debar him from a role in our media-alert public life.
Alistair, an angry young lizard played with positively Jurassic malice by the excellent Leo Bill, is the only real villain of the piece. He rants about why he is 'sick to fucking death of poor people' and incites his blotto peers to treat the landlord of the pub in which they're dining (a nicely understated Steffan Rhodri) with medieval contempt.
The central hypocrisy – that Alistair expects to pay to commit vandalism beyond the wildest dreams of the trainer-nicking rioters he despises – is pushed to a compellingly dark climax. But until that point, the boys' piss-taking, piss-drinking pranks – which include a naive attempt to convince a 'prozzer' to suck them all off under the table – are disgracefully enjoyable.
Wade's play attacks the Old Boy Network, but it doesn't entirely lack compassion for conservatives. There are nine nuanced types on stage, and first-class honours go Harry Lister Smith as a radiant try-hard new boy; Richard Goulding, fundamentally decent as the gentleman farmer who'd rather be drinking ale with the chaps in the bar; and Joshua McGuire, downwardly mobile and embarrassingly desperate to revive the ten-bird roasts and chandelier-smashing glories of the club's past. Collectively they're narcissistic, whooping, hedonistic, arrogant young twerps who'll jizz all over anything, especially a new boy's textbooks. But that's wasted youth for you.
Wade and Turner bring the culture clash between traditional values and modern Britain to life. Street-focused pop culture makes it agonisingly difficult to be posh and cool these days. Wade's cringe-inducingly matey group slang makes the point. And Turner's astonishing, upscaled production picks it up and sprints with it: the bewigged eighteenth-century portraits which spring out of their frames and start rapping are a fantastic coup de theatre. Surreal moments, when the rakish spirit of Lord Riot appears and chastises his latter-day imitators, or when the gold-waistcoated diners break out into impressively harmonised, brilliantly inappropriate R&B routines, make this show far more fun than the exposing Bullingdon Club documentary that critics of our current elite might have liked it to be.