A Gathering of Most Honourable Gentlemen
9, 16 & 23 August
In recent BBC2 posho-spying documentary Young, Bright and on the Right, a miniature Boris Johnson informs cameras that he likes student Tory politics because it represents "a chance to pretend to be a member of the upper classes for an afternoon."
The Moosetache Society's A Gathering of Most Honourable Gentlemen is essentially an attempt to provide the same, through the medium of an interactive theatre-and-dining experience. Audience members are given a foppish moniker for the evening (Flounder, Teddy-Weddy and Chappers all present and accounted for), a rather excellent false moustache and a tophat, and are thenceforth honourary members of the ancient and ridiculous Puddington club.
As courses come and go the two hosts, played by Chase Heltzel and Chloe Merris, provide a combination of set-piece club rituals and affable smalltalk. The former, which include a rousing rendition of the national anthem in full before starters, telegrams heralding family disasters for which our urgent advice is required, rounds of extravagant toasts and a hilarious initiation ceremony, are generally the more successful elements.
Chat about our imagined country estates, profligate spending, noble family, sexism and hatred of social mobility generally went less well. A combination of not knowing quite what to say (turns out most people aren't great at pretending to be posh) and the awkwardness that comes with laughing at the idea of educating women in order to keep up appearances.
The concept overall is a good one - Laura Wade's Posh has proved that the exclusive club is an ideal subject for theatre, but A Gathering of Most Honourable Gentlemen falls short of Bullingdon standard in disappointingly many areas.
The upper-class parodies put forth by Heltzel and Merris often didn't ring true - their turns of phrase, verbal tics, social and political outlooks - even their attitude to serving staff - seemed more what someone might guess the rich and privileged are like than a characterisation based on any research. Their occasional rhymed speeches are cringe-worthy. And though it seems churlish to criticise, the food and ambience of the Trangallan, a contemporary Spanish restaurant, as well as odd decisions such as serving whiskey in champagne flutes, make the illusion harder to sustain.
The best moments of the night were when the audience managed to surprise itself with how clever it managed to be, how well it played along. These moments were, invariably, quite closely managed by the performers, and a greater focus on such semi-scripted segments would help the performance along.
For a project dreamed up by two students still at drama school, this shows a lot of potential. The metatheatrical turn which ends the night on a pleasingly sharp note hints at something really impressive, and some more research and re-working could make a really exciting and engaging piece.