Cressida Carre: Hostility towards gender swapping comes from a place of fear

Director Cressida Carre on why she decided to helm an all-female version of Laura Wade’s play ”Posh”

Director Cressida Carre
Director Cressida Carre
© Darren Bell

Laura Wade's play Posh is about a fictionalised version of the famous Bullingdon Club, an all-male student's dining club in Oxford where the likes of Boris Johnson and David Cameron hung out. Posh was first staged in 2010 at the Royal Court and was made into the film The Riot Club in 2014 and now returns to London. This time, however, Cressida Carre is directing the play with an all-female cast. Here she explains why.

Where did the idea of an all-female Posh come from?
Our producer Tom Harrop approached me about doing one. I hadn’t seen the play, although I had heard about it, and once I read it I was on board straight away. It is such a fabulous play. I had recently been to see a friend in Phyllida Lloyd‘s Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse and I was blown away by it. I felt it was so much more accessible and powerful, so I had that in the back of my mind.

Are the performers playing men, or women?
They are women playing male characters. They are women playing James, Miles, Hugo etc. So we have kept all the male pronouns and kept it exactly as written.

The cast of Posh
The cast of Posh
© Darren Bell

A little like Glenda Jackson’s King Lear?
Yes. A lot of people said – why don’t you just reverse the roles, so the call-girl and the waitress characters become men. But this wasn’t just about reversing roles. It was about putting female actresses into the play.

What was your main impetus to do this?
They are such fabulous roles and it is an ensemble piece. It’s rare to find a play with roles as juicy and as challenging as these. It was about enabling the actresses to have complete freedom in the room. The current political climate – Theresa May coming in, Hilary Clinton almost becoming President, Angela Merkel in Germany – also meant it felt like the right time to do this.

Does having women perform it change the nature of the play, do you think?
I don’t think it does. I think it makes the language even stronger. The language is amplified and the situation is amplified and you very quickly forget that it is a woman playing the role.

How have you been working with the cast on portraying the roles?
We’ve very much just gone for the truth of the scene. Obviously masculine qualities have to come in to it, because that is the character but I think the performances are very neutral at times.

We’ve had some fairly strong reactions to women playing male roles recently, what’s your response to these?
I think they come from a place of fear. It’s people’s opinion, but there have been many all-male versions of shows which I don’t think have got the same vitriol from people. It’s funny – these roles are never going to suddenly change to female. It’s just another way of looking at the play and the language. I think it’s so interesting that we get these all-female and all-male versions – we absolutely still get the traditional versions as well.

Posh opens tonight at the Pleasance Theatre and runs until 22 April.