Saturday, April 17, 2010
Posh at the Royal Court
Laura Wade’s provocative new play about class privilege concerns an elite Oxford dining club not entirely dissimilar from the now notorious Bullingdon Club of which David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson were all members.
The ten undergraduate members of the Riot Club dress in bow ties and tail coats and quaff wine by the bottle in an attempt to get totally "chateaued". They have a complex set of rules and any breach is met with a forfeit. Bin liners are affixed to the back of each chair to deal with the inevitable physical consequences of such excess and the object of the evening is to create as much havoc as possible.
The play takes place in the burgundy-walled private dining room of an Oxfordshire country pub. One of their number, Guy – his eye on the presidency – has customised the menu to include a ten bird roast, while another, Harry, rocks up in his fencing gear; Dimitri rides in on a newly purchased vintage Triumph motorbike and new boys Ed and Miles are still slightly perturbed that in the name of initiation someone has jizzed all over their college rooms.
These young men have wealth, property (there’s a lengthy rant about the National Trust and how awful it is to have the public traipsing through their family homes), connections, and a deeply held sense of entitlement. They are also, to a man, weak, cowardly, immature and whiny. Wade gradually builds up their belief that money can get them anything they want; at first it’s a few extras favours, small things, but later, as the wine flows, they think nothing of offering the landlord’s daughter cash to perform sexual acts. Their grasp on the realities of how other people live is slim and their attitude to women is, at best, condescending, at worst dripping in misogyny. When their behaviour veers from being merely obnoxious towards something altogether uglier, it’s telling that their first response is to fret about the consequences for their futures.
The most outspoken of their number is Leo Bill’s Alistair who gets a number of impassioned monologues about how people of their class and position have allowed themselves to be carried away on a tide of mediocrity. He believes it is time to reclaim their birth right as members of the ruling class, to rule.
There are other strong performances from Harry Hadden-Paton as the incredibly self-assured Harry (“I always win”) and David Dawson as Hugo, who tries to present himself as slightly more refined than the others. Daniel Ryan’s pub landlord and Fiona Button, as his daughter, Rachel, provide a necessary counterpoint to their indulgence.
Lyndsey Turner’s production is well-paced and inventive, with the interludes between scenes covered by some delightfully incongruous a capella singing, and Wade’s writing is witty and very entertaining. There are flashes of charm in these young men before they degenerate into a braying wine-fuelled mob, but she allows them few, if any, redeeming features; none of them emerge as fully rounded characters – they are just variants on a type. It would have been nice to see a glimmer of goodness or the capacity to change in at least one of them, but the play is more intent on banging its drum.
Wade suggests that clubs like these are not only an excuse for bad behaviour, but an opportunity to gain ties that will last a lifetime, favours to be repaid at some future date when they’re all comfortably ensconced in some position of authority. The final scenes glitter with conspiracy, but it all feels rather over-done, the play having already stated its case several times over by this point.
Reviewed for musicOMH