“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”
The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.
In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility.
Wade has created a fictional (though clearly ‘inspired by real events’) Oxford University dining club, The Riot Club, which gathers in a rural gastro-pub to have a smashing good time. But when not everything goes exactly to plan, the ugliness bubbling under the arrogant behaviour of these young men towards the great unwashed who are serving them here, explodes in shocking violence. Much of the writing still swings and stings with its vicious humour and upper class #firstworldproblems but I still felt, as I did the first time that I saw the show at the Royal Court, that the lack of shading throughout this grouping works a little against it. The herd mentality that emerges makes for powerful if a little contrived drama, especially in the impactful second half, but this is at the expense of genuinely insightful characterisation.
But in a cast which boasts nearly two thirds of its original members, there are performances galore to bask in: Leo Bill is superb as the most bitterly astringent of the revellers, Tom Mison’s leader, the only one with a hint of empathy, is excellently charismatic, Henry Lloyd Hughes’ Greek outsider, Joshua Macguire’s puppyish and completely punchable sucker-upper, Jolyon Coy’s amusingly drunk Toby (whose role I think has been beefed up a little here as he is now the victim of the letter-reading). Of the six new cast members, Max Bennett impresses the most, brimming with a tautly simmering anger as Hugo though I also enjoyed Harry Lister Smith as one of the eager newcomers to the table.
I was a little surprised to see that Lyndsey Turner’s production was replicated almost exactly as was in the Duke of York’s, Anthony Ward’s self-contained set sitting on the larger stage with bare walls visible behind, but it worked well in this more intimate of West End houses (at least from the front of thr Royal Circle which is where lastminute.com’s best available seats for a tenner put us). What has been updated is the tracklisting for the ingenious musical interludes that punctuate the scene changes. I was sorry to see Panic! At The Disco’s ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ go as it was an absolute stonker, but from LMFAO’s ‘Sexy And I Know It’ which opens the show beautifully, through Maroon 5 and Tinie Tempah numbers, they are huge amounts of fun to watch and listen to.
So a play for our times? Not quite as much as it seems to think so, which is a shame as I suspect time will tell that it has an enduring quality, something which became obvious to me on this second viewing. Interestingly, what I liked about it this time is what I apparently disliked first time round (I love to have the blog to remind about these very things!) and so despite slight reservations, I think I would recommend this for a night out – not least because it is such a boon to see a new play with wittily clever staging in the West End.