In her overwhelmingly successful political comedy, Laura Wade fuses lavishness, gluttony, and downright imbecility with the filthily rich members of the Riot Club – a dining society based upon Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club. With the upcoming General Election in mind, Wade has timed the second production of Posh impeccably. The audience is cordially invited to challenge the motives and intentions of those in power by witnessing an elitist group of the wealthiest Oxford students becoming hilariously and treacherously drunk.
After hiring a satisfactorily high-end pub for an evening meal, all ten members of the Riot Club arrive in their navy blue tailcoats and yellowish waistcoats to perform the destructive ritual of their traditionally riotous termly dinner. As the night continues, arguments kick off and climax into an irrevocable catastrophe that reveals the true nature of today’s politicians.
The popularity of Posh, originally staged in 2010, is undeniable – and rightly so. Two professional UK performances have already been shown and the creation of its film adaptation, The Riot Club, has only widened our adoration for the boys’ tale. However, surely an audience cannot ‘like’ such arrogant, exclusivist, rich, young white males. The trouble is that enjoyment of the smart and bawdy puns shared between the boys is unavoidable, even if the characters themselves are wholly unlikeable. This love-hate relationship is the most entertaining element of Posh: the Riot Club members are pompous and their petty arguments are enough to drive one insane, but their behaviour is still deeply compelling. Wade deliberately presents the usual spoiled brats who affirm: “It’s our night, we should get our way”. The audience loathe these apparent toffs, but secretly wish to be them, with money to burn.
The trouble is that enjoyment of the smart and bawdy puns shared between the boys is unavoidable, even if the characters themselves are wholly unlikeable
The wonderfully appropriate, opulent dining scenery is yet another poke-in-the-eye for the audience; reminiscent of a life they may never afford. The curtains open to reveal dazzling crimson décor alongside golden candles, illuminated by warm lighting. Despite initial concern that only one setting for most of the play would become tedious; the positioning of the huge table is handled incredibly well, with most actors’ faces visible at major moments in the script. This keeps the audience engaged and teased effectively: one feels a part of the table, and that one’s political opinions actually matter to the club – an intelligently subtle and acutely inexplicit way of breaking the fourth wall. When necessary, appropriate references to popular culture aid effectively in re-engaging and refreshing an audience when conversation turns a little heavy.
When necessary, appropriate references to popular culture aid effectively in re-engaging and refreshing an audience
One significantly disappointing element of the play involves the appearance of the original Lord Riot in spirit form, as he overtakes the body of the ridiculously drunk Toby Maitland. For a performance that is tapping into real societal concerns, and contains one time frame that hints at its naturalism, this moment seems highly unnecessary. The plot can advance without it, and the supernatural element to the part creates a divide between the context of the play and of the audience. Arguably, this ruptures Wade’s aim to provoke the audience to question the powerful. Nonetheless, Tom Clegg’s captivating portrayal of Toby saves this section by bringing to it an undeniable humour. Clegg successfully remains that actor towards which eyes are drawn throughout the play, owing to his expert imitation of an incredibly intoxicated mockery of a gentleman.
Posh is a darkly comic and essentially disgusting portrayal of future leaders; yet it is absolutely brilliant in generating political discussion through an audience’s contradictory attitude towards the Riot Club boys. Satirical and original, it is a must-see performance.
‘Forever Young’ is running till Saturday 28th February. For more information, see here
Images credited to Richard Lakos