You love us, you want to be us, states Alistair Ryle in Posh to the owner of the pub where he and his mates are having dinner, before kicking him unconscious. This kind of phrase is often heard in plays or films in which a disgusting human being is also charismatic and intriguing.
Posh, the play by Laura Wade, is a guilty pleasure. While the characters are virtually insulting the audience, as was the case in Richard Bean’s Great Britain which portrayed the British journalists involved in hacking people’s phones for headlines, we laugh and this makes us feel like we are connected to the plot while it is actually disrespectful.
Posh is based around the “Riot Club” (apparently inspired by the Bullingdon Club, the exclusive Oxford dining club which only accepts sons of the British elite) and its bi-yearly dinner which traditionally aims to end in destruction and drug abuse. Apart from the beginning and end scenes, the play takes place in one single private dining room in a local pub outside Oxford. I always like these kinds of plays, taking place behind closed doors. As the evening wears on, their pride at being in the club and the bottomless glasses of wine lets them embark on a destructive night involving a prostitute, the pub owner and his daughter. Who could dare to say no to them, when they consider themselves the Crème de la Crème?
The original production of Posh took place at the Royal Court in 2010 before transferring to the West End. This month, the Pleasance is hosting a new direction by Cressida Carré with an all-female cast. This choice of flipping the genders is of course very welcome and exciting, with a female PM in power in this country and the realisation that if the text is good, gender doesn’t matter! And indeed, the cast and performances were superb in this revival.
The ten actresses playing the members of the Riot Club were delightful in their high entitled status as they prepared for their excessive “dinner”. I can’t even mention them all, as the cast was so strong... Alice Brittain was obnoxious and provocative as Harry, Amani Zardoe was a treat of humour, confidence and beauty as Guy, Jessica Sian brought tenderness mixed with selfishness to Miles, Verity Kirk as Ed brought lightness and innocence to some of the obscene dialogues and Serena Jennings was excellent as Alistair: her anger and frustration at the state of society and her own trapped situation were a joy to
I did wonder however why the girls remained so masculine. With the text unchanged, pronouns and names remained male. I thought costume and some of the girls’ physicality could have been more feminine, pushing female power. Was this to mean that these women, who were aiming for some of the highest professional positions in the world, needed to be manly to get there? Was it the text which pushed them to act like this, despite the sexism in it and the line “who run the world”?
This being said, the girls embraced their masculine and animal sides beautifully. Indeed, I can imagine each of them taking on the spirit of an animal to inform their character.
The set design on a rotating stage, with the elegantly set table and chandelier in the centre, combined with the performances, was just right to keep us engaged and the cast visible by all. The black walls seemed like they were haunted with centuries of old Riot Clubs, and created a coldness, the opposite of the luxury the clubs’ members wanted to represent.
The whole piece was expertly directed by Carré, with slow-motion sequences and loud music turning the theatre into a club that has gone mad and is on the verge of exploding. But could there have been more risk taken with regards to gender, line changing and current references?
Laura Wade’s flawless text supported by this excellent and bold cast makes this a fun evening, but I felt the logic behind the gender-swapping could have been taken to the next level.
Review by Sophie Tergeist