As the bumbling Etonian boys’ club continues to run this country, the Drama Society’s performance of Posh by Laura Wade served up a timely satirisation of the British upper class.
It is the opening night of Posh, a last-minute change has seen the performances moved back to the beloved Drama Barn (water damage repaired!), and as the cast ready themselves – taking one last walk to clear the head, a quick perusal of the script – the audience settle into their seats; it’s a full house. Over the next three hours, the latter will be treated to yet another fine production by the Drama Society.
Produced by Niamh Sharkey Milum and directed by Becca Brown, Laura Wade’s Posh (2010) tells the story of ten Oxford undergraduates, all members of the ‘Riot Club’, a fictional parody of the very real Bullingdon Club. This is a private dining club at Oxford known for its traditions of smashing up the places they dine at and flashing money about to pay for it, as well as for its famous alumni: Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and George Osborne. (I’m sure you’ll agree the idea of these three wrecking shops sounds much less cool than stories of Keith Moon doing the same in hotels.)
The plot follows the events of these ten students, all products of Britain’s public schools, entitled and bratty. There are long-established members of the club: Alastair (played by Jonathan Barnes), Hugo (Rohan Millen), George (Holly Hughes), “Tubes” (Georgia Green), Villiers (Fraser Houston), and Club President James (Ali Moodie). Members vying to succeed the President once he graduates: Dimitri (Abi Baker) and Guy ‘Bellend’ Bellingfield (Becky Banner). And newbies to the club seeking to impress: Miles (Vincent Klein), Ed (Ella Brown). They turn up one by one at a bed and breakfast in rural Oxfordshire for dinner, eat each course, lament the decline of a deferential, unequal Britain that had benefited their forebears, and drink an unbelievable amount of booze (even for students). Tension builds between the club members and the landlord, Chris (Jamie Stapleton): their noise, their drunken, creepy bullying of Chris’ daughter, Rachel (Renaya Dhillon), their hiring a prostitute who didn’t tolerate the group’s disrespect (Frances Colin), and the Riot Club’s disdain for Chris’ supposed impertinence. The play reaches its climax with a wrecked B&B and a hospitalised Chris.
This play is full of witty, well-observed humour, often at the expense of these characters (a few of these jokes are so close to the mark you wonder whether you should really be laughing). This presents some really vicious prejudices on the part of these characters: the LGBT community, Muslims, and women are all targets, ultimately anyone who doesn’t belong to this white elite minority. ‘Tubes’ (Green) being seemingly possessed by the ghost of Lord Riot, the founder of the club, was one scene that stood out, but I would argue that the best moments were the one-liners and passing moments of humour. The cast added to this with some great ad-libs, among them were the delightfully gratuitous uses of the C-word. (I later found out this word does not appear once in the script, but I thought that on every occasion it was a funny addition, executed perfectly. Perhaps that says a lot about me as a childish audience member!)
There are also serious, almost frightening moments of drama. One was a fantastic monologue by Jonathan Barnes, his angry Alastair lamenting what he sees as the upstart lower classes not knowing their place below him in society. This brings the first act to a dramatic end with the line ‘I f***ing hate poor people!’ A fist slammed onto the table brings the lights down for the interval.
One remarkable aspect of this performance was how they managed to have two or three conversations happening at once (I later found out that this took a lot of work in rehearsals to achieve, but it certainly paid off). Yet another is the amount everyone was drinking. Alcohol is a significant driver of the chaos in the story, but in this instance, wine and whisky were (convincingly) substituted with water, squash, and juice. Because of this, the cast members could be seen dashing off to the nearest campus loo at the interval! (At least they were hydrated throughout.)
The most unnerving moment of this whole play is the final scene: Alastair, the ringleader of the violence against the landlord (he eventually becomes the scapegoat for the whole episode), and the most angry and vicious in his tirades against the lower classes, is rewarded for his behaviour with a future in politics. It begs the question of whether anyone in this current government is comparable to Alastair, or any of the other characters. Certainly, the way this government seems to be assembled of Johnson’s under-qualified, sycophantic, public school chums, it wouldn’t be hard to swap many of this current cabinet into the characters on-stage.
Drama Society has put on yet another success. For ‘amateur’ theatre, their performances are always of the highest quality, and it is no stretch of the imagination to think that many of those involved in this production, both on and off stage, have a future somewhere in the industry. A ‘scrunch’ for them all!