“I am sick to fucking death of poor people!” These are the words that end the first half of Laura Wades play Posh, which has recently returned to the stage after its initial showing in 2010. The curtain comes down for the interval and members of the audience turn to each other and begin to discuss what they have just witnessed in excited murmurs.
The play centres on a group of young men who are all part of the elite Riot Club at Oxford, based on the infamous Bullingham Club of which David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson are all former members. The events take place almost entirely within one night, as the members hire the privet dining room of a local gastro pub with the intention of raising hell and getting “absolutely chateauxed”.
Posh has developed in the two years that have passed since its premier outing. Wade has slightly altered scenes in order to make reference to the new coalition government, as well as other current issues. For example one Greek member of the club is made constant fun of about his country’s bankruptcy.
The play is hilarious from the very start and continues to have the audience in fits of laughter for most of the following two hours. At times however I am forced to wonder whether the laughter is brought about by the absurdity of the action unfolding, or the predictably middle class audiences recognition of their own behaviour in these twisted, albeit comical characters on stage.
As the play unfolds it shows the deterioration of the inhibitions and morals of the Riot Club members. Bottles of wine are emptied within minutes and soon enough the young men are becoming more obnoxious and absurd in their demands, furiously complaining that their ten bird roast contained only nine birds and attempting to convince a “prozzer” to suck them all off under the table. Meanwhile, anyone who threatens to ruin their good time is dealt with by having money thrown their way.
The play’s success is due not only to the quality of Wade’s writing, but also the performances of the young actors involved. The easy schoolboy banter shared by the characters is completely convincing and reminds me of Alan Bennett’s History Boys, this being arguably the most capable group of young talent seen on stage since. Posh could so easily be a play about terrible people doing terrible things and let’s face it, who would pay to watch that? Instead, against all odds the characters actually manage not just to make us laugh, but also make us like them, at least a bit.
Certain performances stand out such as Harry Lister Smith’s fresh faced Ed Montgomery, one of the clubs newest members who when we first meet him is deeply upset at the other boys having “jizzed” over his teddy bear as part of a bizarre and undeniably homoerotic initiation process. Credit also has to be given to Leo Bill who successfully brings life to the most detestable character in the whole play and whose voice and mannerisms bare such a disturbing resemblance to our current Chancellor of the Exchequer that it makes one wonder whether this is an intentional impersonation.
To break up the linier story and singular location of the piece, the scenes are interspersed with brilliantly quirky yet ridiculous renditions of popular R&B songs, performed by the cast in impressive harmonies.
My only criticism is the ending, which I won’t give away here. The intention is no doubt to shock and sober up the audience after the fun and games that have preceded this moment. However I feel that the outcome is somewhat forced and the message behind it laboured. I can’t help feeling that a subtler conclusion might have worked better. This being said it is by no means a terrible way to end the piece and leaves us pondering the question I feel sure it was designed to provoke – are these the characters who have shaped our government?