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Review Round-up: Were Critics Outclassed at Posh?

Laura Wade’s new play Posh received its world premiere last night (15 April 2010, previews from 9 April) at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, where it continues its limited season until 22 May.

The play - described variously as “Brideshead meets Lord of the Flies” and a “declaration of war” on the Conservative Party in the run-up to next month’s General Election - explores themes of class, power, privilege and the influence of ‘old money’ via an elite student dining society at Oxford who are bunkering down for a wild night of debauchery and decadence.

The 14-strong company comprises Leo Bill, Jolyon Coy, David Dawson, Richard Goulding, Harry Hadden-Paton, Kit Harington, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Joshua Mcguire, Tom Mison and James Norton as the ten members of the fictional Riot Club, as well as Charlotte Lucas, Fiona Button, Daniel Ryan and Simon Shepherd. Lyndsey Turner directs.

Here’s an overview of what the overnight critics thought...

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) – “Scabrously funny, disgustingly smug, and deeply disturbing, Laura Wade’s brilliant new play Posh shows a group of public school rich boys behaving badly ... 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 ... 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 to cover scene changes and heighten the raucous mood, which is enhanced with cunning beauty by Paule Constable’s lighting ... Tom Mison as the secret banker, Henry Lloyd-Hughes as a Greek rich kid 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.”
  • Michael Billington in theGuardian (three stars) – “While I'm glad to see the Royal Court confronting the supposedly taboo subject of class, the play occasionally overstates its case and raises issues of dramatic probability … Wade hits a number of nails on the head … But the play suffers from showing all ten members of her fictional club as total shits: for the sake of good drama, one wishes at least one of them displayed some moral qualm about their actions … And, when it comes to the climax, plausibility flies out of the window … Turner orchestrates the group activity – punctuated by close-harmony songs – well, and allows individuals to emerge: David Dawson lends a gay poet a distinctively sharp profile, Leo Bill is suitably reptilian as the club's most outspoken member and Henry Lloyd-Hughes impresses as a wealthy Greek who aims to be more English than the English ... While I endorse Wade's attitudes, her play admits no shades of grey. What she has to say is eminently worth hearing, especially as the election looms. But her argument would be even stronger if it admitted that, even within the ranks of the bluebloods, there were occasional spasms of doubt and decency.”
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (three stars) – “Boldly, the state-funded Royal Court has come up with a satire about an Oxford University dining club … Predictably, Miss Wade disapproves … More than anything, this play is a political attack ... The viciousness of some of the snobbery is, in places, hard to believe … There is also some plainly daft stuff about a mysterious Establishment operating from gentlemen's clubs in St James'. I happen to live in such a club and we can barely run a billiards tournament, let alone the country. Were Miss Wade better informed, she might write about the unreconstructed, male-dominated power nexus of the trade unions and the Labour party … a couple of solecisms. 'Bread roll' and 'toilet' are not expressions you will normally hear Bullingdon boys utter. Nor does one tip club staff. The humour is at times forced and the drunkenness becomes tiresome, but Daniel Ryan is excellent as the pub landlord who gradually loses his temper. In Tom Mison, who plays the weak president of the Riot, the production even has a David Cameron lookalike … So does this show amount to anything more than a swipe at Cameron's Tories? Yes.”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “In Laura Wade’s beautifully observed, very funny play ... her invention, the Riot Club, is a kind of Bullingdon lite … The swanky horseplay, repellent yet fascinating, is brilliantly acted, while Lyndsey Turner’s skilful direction means there’s never a dull moment. There are deft and surprising touches … Surrealism is never far away. The ensemble work is outstandingly good: fluid, layered, always plausible. The standout performances come from Henry Lloyd-Hughes, magnetic as sinister Dimitri, and Leo Bill, thrillingly repulsive as the reptilian Alistair … There are flecks of implausibility. Would a Riot Club member really refer to the ‘toilet’ and sneer at someone who called it a ‘lavatory’? Where are the gruesome initiation rituals? And the Riot Club members don’t even drink all that much. Still, Wade’s gifts as a satirist are beyond doubt. While its conclusion strives a little too hard for immediate relevance, this play combines topicality with dramatic appeal. It mostly works a treat.”
  • Domenic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph - “Braying, arrogant, narcissistic, sexist, cruel - deeply snobbish and filthy rich. Posh ... is just about the worst advertisement for being young, loaded and at Oxford that you could imagine – and it’s totally plausible... It’s also killingly funny... The reason why the play is political dynamite is that it allows us to draw our own unfavourable conclusions about the mindset of the Conservatives. With 6 May looming large, it could conceivably be the first play in history to decide the outcome of an election, frightening the life out of wavering voters by shining a spotlight on those skeletons in the Tory leadership closet... The timing of the production might be said to amount to a declaration of war – given how much is at stake – except that really it’s a continuation of a one-sided battle that has been running in the arts throughout the New Labour years... For the Labour Party to go into opposition without a well-timed kick up the backside strikes me as a major and damning dereliction of duty on the part of the playwrights of this country.”
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