Theatre review: ‘Posh’ at the Royal Court

First published in the June 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

During the interval for Posh, news spread that David Cameron had just become Britain’s Prime Minister. Which was a neat juxtaposition, because the play was all about an elite student dining club, and was inspired by the notorious Bullingdon club which once counted our new PM as a member.

Ten moneyed young men arrive for dinner in the private room of a pub in Oxfordshire. They have ordered a caseload of wine and are intent on tucking into “a ten bird roast,” not to mention enjoying the company of a prostitute later in the evening, before trashing the place. The club they are a member of – the Riot Club – is aptly named.

There’s just one problem: their sense of superiority vanishes whenever the outside world peeks in – whether it’s the attentive pub landlord, his daughter (helping out as waitress for the night), or the prostitute who awkwardly sneaks in through the window.

The only mildly sympathetic character is the president of the group. But he weakly succumbs to the demands of the baying masses around him. The other members are almost indistinguishable from each other – cruel and snobbish yet remarkably witty.

The captioning – provided by Stagetext – could not be faulted, but due to the sheer number of characters in the play, it was sometimes hard to figure out exactly who was speaking as our eyes were darting back and forth (from the captioned box to the set) very, very rapidly!

Whether or not Posh’s portrait of the upper classes is accurate, it is funny, entertaining and I particularly enjoyed the fantastic scene where the prostitute somehow manages to appear more principled than the boys themselves. Where the play took a wrong turning for me was in the direction it took after the interval.

Having started off firing verbal volleys at each other, the group’s bile is turned on the world around them, as they lament their loss of status in a country that has changed. Fuelled by drink, an angry sense of entitlement takes over.

I didn’t object to the characters becoming more bitter and twisted as the play went on. But when the boys trash the room, events suddenly take an extreme turn which felt like a step too far.

While this sudden twist works (in the dramatic sense) by leading the boys to question whether they would sacrifice everything in the name of the club, their actions equate them with the members of a feral street gang, and for me this jarred with the mocking tone the play had adopted until that point.

It’s a shocking ending which had me on the edge of my seat. I just wasn’t sure if it was the right ending for this play – or whether they message that the boys manage to escape any sanctions afterwards could really ring true.

For all that, I was thoroughly entertained by Posh’s portrayal of these rich young men, impressed by how the cast brought them to life, and in awe of Laura Wade’s script.

I walked out of the Royal Court into a Britain now supposedly governed by the adult version of one of the young lads I’d just seen misbehaving on stage. And I must admit, that thought hung heavily on my mind on the tube journey home.

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