Review: Posh (Oxford Playhouse)
UK tour of Laura Wade's play about the upper classes feels as timely as ever
Nearly a decade on from its blistering Royal Court premiere and subsequent West End transfer, Laura Wade's incisive dissection of the entitled upper classes in their Oxford University playground feels as relevant and disquieting as ever. Ten rich, spoilt young undergraduates meet for an evening of hedonism and recklessness, and hang the consequences.
In a bold – some might say brave – move, producer Joe Prentice has elected to open the Posh UK tour in Oxford itself, home of the notorious Bullingdon Club that spawned the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and current Downing Street incumbent Boris Johnson. The play's Riot Club is a thinly disguised version of that student institution, and its members are Tory through and through.
As a piece of political theatre, the message is blunt to the point of brutal. These people – with their expectation to rule; their conviction that money can buy them out of any problem, and their inherent, blind faith in their own superiority – are pretty despicable characters and we trust them with the future of the nation at our own peril.
The timing of this production, then, could hardly be more auspicious. And in the care of first-time professional director Lucy Hughes, it's impressively handled, with the evening's descent into violence and recrimination well-managed and credibly uncomfortable.
On a beautifully designed set (Will Coombs), the club play out their combination of ritualistic tradition and man-child bravado with increasing levels of danger and unpleasantness. As their condescension towards the pub's landlord, Chris, and his waitress daughter Rachel spills over into ill-concealed contempt, the audience become complicit in their extremes – after all, we've been laughing along with their hi-jinx antics up till now, haven't we?
Where Posh leaves little room for ambiguity or its affiliations, the performers work hard to give depth to the characters. Led by stage debutant Tyger Drew-Honey – compelling as the odious but ultimately conflicted Alistair Ryle – the pack of Rioters build a cumulative picture of self-indulgence and snobbery. In a well-balanced and expansive cast, Adam Mirsky's Guy stands out as both obsequious and naive, Joseph Tyler Todd is affably lumpish as the impoverished toff George, and Jamie Littlewood appropriately jumped-up as the nouveau riche Greek Dimitri.
Among the ‘commoners' who intervene in the group's memorable night, there's rather less character development, but Isobel Laidler brings a vibrant energy to the role of Rachel, while Ellie Nunn's principled escort girl Charlie adds a dose of realism to the unicorn-populated world of these arrogant upstarts: she alone refuses to be bought off in return for acquiescence.
There's something of a rawness to this production, which perhaps reflects the number of newcomers both on and off stage. But it's frequently exploited and with a little time to bed in and tighten up, this looks set to be a show to watch. Perhaps it should even be compulsory viewing for members of the government.