This all-female production of Laura Wade’s 2010 play ‘Posh’ rides a recent wave of gender-swapping drama on stage and screen, from Phyllida Lloyd’s ‘Shakespeare Trilogy’ at the Donmar to the female ‘Ghostbusters’ in cinemas. It’s a portrait of snobbery, savagery and debauchery in the hands of an all-male student dining society, Oxford’s fictional Riot Club. What’s especially interesting about having all the male parts played by women is that Wade is clearly interested in a particular form of preening Oxbridge male privilege. These are not the sort of characters you could argue are gender-neutral; quite the opposite.
These ten big boys, dressed like lords in the private dining room of an Oxfordshire pub believe that they’re born to rule – and that their right to do so is being eroded. Having women play these men only stresses their absurdity. It’s a neat provocation, and the ensemble cast in Cressida Carré’s smartly choreographed production play these gilded fools with energy and swagger. Two performances stand out: Serena Jennings as the viciously entitled Alistair and Verity Kirk as Ed, the ingénue and clown of the pack.
But there’s a lack of consistency in the acting styles. Some of this cast seem to be playing female spins on these men; others seem to be playing them as males. Also, Carré’s production fails to solve a problem that lies as much with the play itself: it runs very close to fetishising the behaviour on display. The story peaks with violence towards the owners of the pub and his daughter, but we don’t feel the sense of nausea and horror we should. Instead, more memorable and scene-stealing are the punky, music-heavy scene bridges that indulge the Riot Club’s behaviour in stylish slow-mo.
Wade’s play has strong moments when it digs the knife into power and privilege, but it feels shallow, even immature at times. It also feels dated. It was that famous picture of George Osborne, David Cameron and Boris Johnson in The Bullingdon Club that inspired ‘Posh’. Now that moment has passed and this has become a historical piece. It feels like a bullish comment on a moment rather than a play for the ages.