Scabrously funny, disgustingly smug, and deeply disturbing, Laura Wade’s brilliant new play Posh shows a group of public school rich boys behaving badly in an Oxfordshire private dining club and lamenting their loss of a country they think they both own and created.
Clearly based on the Bullingdon at Oxford University (of which David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson were prominent members), the play’s Riot Club is also a metaphor in the class divide, and represents a streak of political brutality in the Conservative Party that for the moment lies dormant as candidate “Dave” develops his compassionate image.
It’s hugely ironic that one of Cameron’s “big ideas” is for a citizens’ army recruited to repair a damaged society, presumably the one duffed up by his chums in the Bullingdon. The most ferocious member of Wade’s Riot Club is Leo Bill’s ratty and vengeful Alistair Ryle who delivers a broadside against the mediocrity, poverty and aspirations of the hoi polloi, as well as chaps who keep their cheese in the fridge.
The others live in country houses overrun by tourists and one has been reduced to sneaking an application to join the Deutsche Bank. They assemble in Anthony Ward’s wittily conceived gastropub dining room in their evening dress of red bow ties, stripy waistcoats and gold-lapelled dinner jackets to get well and truly “chateaued” while consuming a ten-bird-roast and awaiting a local prostitute (Charlotte Lucas).
The evening develops as an orgiastic ritual of humiliation involving their jovial pub host (Daniel Ryan) and his waitress daughter Rachel (Fiona Button), who is studying languages at Newcastle (“You’d need to, there” says one of the wags). The climactic horror is the toff equivalent of the baby-stoning scene in Edward Bond’s Saved; this is a classic Royal Court play with a view from the other end of the telescope.
Lyndsey Turner’s superb production makes great use of a capella songs (and the toreador’s march from Carmen) to cover scene changes and heighten the raucous mood, which is enhanced with cunning beauty by Paule Constable’s lighting and includes cross fades to the be-wigged founding members of the club in a dissolving portrait.
That continuity is expressed in the scenes that book-end the dinner in an oak-panelled London club where a Tory grandee (Simon Shepherd) first encourages his nephew (Joshua McGuire, a new Tom Hollander) to maintain the Riot’s standards of excess and finally fingers Alistair (who should be wearing a tie) as the sort of chap they can ease out of trouble with the law and into a top job, perhaps even the top job.
Tom Mison as the secret banker, Henry Lloyd-Hughes as a Greek rich kid (he’s arranged a post-prandial group outing to Reykjavik) and the extraordinary David Dawson as a febrile poet of the right also shine in a hand-picked cast that do wonderful injustice to the play of the year so far and a fantastic Court follow-through to Jerusalem and Enron.