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Posh

By • West End
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The upper-class bad boys are back in town in this timely Royal Court transfer of Laura Wade’s astonishing, metaphorical and brutal Posh, in which the dressed-up members of an Oxford dining club come rapping alive from the gilded frames of ancestral portraits in a gentlemen’s inner London sanctum.

This brilliant scene follows the set-up: the revival of the Riot Club in times of political consensus and lily-livered drifting by young Tom Hollander lookalike Guy Bellingford (Joshua Maguire) and his ennobled uncle Jeremy (Simon Shepherd); in the same hushed room, at the end, Jeremy sounds the all-clear for licensed posh barbarism and hints at not only a cover-up, but a political coup.

On first viewing in 2010, before the general election, Posh seemed an exuberant satire on the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, where the elite members – who, in the past, have included the current Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London – drink till they drop (ie, get well and truly "château-ed"), trash the dining room and pay the bill, whatever it is, in crisp large notes.

Now, with Ed Miliband announcing in the House of Commons yesterday that, in spite of a coalition government, the “nasty” party is back, the play gathers further strength. With a few sly re-writes, it has intensified that sense in the country of an entitled ruling class feeling less sure of itself, and not just because the rest of us are tramping through their country homes courtesy of the National Trust.

“We might not be to your taste, but we always pay our way,” says Leo Bill’s febrile, volcanic Alistair Ryle – who is indeed easily riled, rather like David Cameron – before launching into the shocking speech about how tired he is of poor people and all their striving, “bursting a vein at the thought of there’s another floor their lift doesn’t go up to”.

Bill is tremendous, and now wears a tie (they read my first review!) for his fateful summons in the London club, pushing his 'poshness' into a curiously emphatic, downmarket expression. This is at one with the posh tendency to absorb rap and pop culture – as evidenced in the brilliant a cappella ensemble items that punctuate the hedonistic débâcle – and the appropriation of the term “mate”.

Lyndsey Turner’s production really misses one or two of the original cast – there’s a lack of definition here and there – and it was a common complaint around me in the back stalls that the actors’ articulation and audibility are poor. Wade’s scintillating construct of demotic dialogue, public schoolboy childishness and yobbishness – the Riot Club really are the privileged cousins of last autumn’s street protesters – deserves a better hearing.

Anthony Ward’s design of the remote country pub is craftily contained within the Masonic club context: the ghost of Lord Riot stalks the land, as well as the dinner, as the rituals and debauchery accelerate to a terrible climax. On the way, Jessica Ransom as the landlord’s daughter, and Charlotte Lucas as the lady of the night from the escort agency, provide surprise, and sterling, resistance.


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