POSH

Mon 21st – Fri 25th November 2011

reviews

James Fennemore

at 00:14 on 22nd Nov 2011

2agrees

1disagrees

I wouldn’t normally like to spend my evening in the company of ten of the most utterly abhorrent individuals imaginable. Laura Wade’s ‘Posh’, however, delivers an enthralling glimpse into a pathetically sordid world of elitist dining societies. It is a reality laid bare. Leaving behind any romanticised sheen of cosy ‘rah’, the production reveals an inherent despicable tribalism. Think ‘Lord of the Flies’, not ‘Jeeves and Wooster’.

We join ‘The Riot Club’ in one of their gluttonous congregations. A variety of members are present: some in attendance out of family tradition, some fledgling members experiencing the club for the first time, some vying for presidency. As the drinking intensifies the atmosphere sours, taking an inevitably horrifying turn for the worse, as the grim underbelly of the club is exposed. Screeching from their pathetically isolated ivory towers, the despicable figures reveal their warped views of reality. It’s compelling stuff.

Central to the outstanding writing on display is the humour. ‘Posh’ knows its audience. It is one that will laugh at all manner of Oxford based jokes (“Newcastle? Is that somewhere near LMH?”) and one that to some degree will buy into the aspirational snobbery upon which the impact of the writing hinges. We, comfortably sitting in the imposing debating chamber of the Union, become strikingly complicit in the dramatic action. The revulsion that the piece inspires is all too close to home.

There are some excellent performances from the cast. Andrew McCormack offers a delightful portrait of a veteran of the society, now securely placed in his political career. Fen Greatley has also been magnificently cast as an odious little rat of an individual, as drunk on the power of his elitism as he is on Bordeaux. Above all, though, James Phillips’ wonderful portrayal of George Balfour is one of the most consistently entertaining performances I’ve seen all year. Exuding a permanent state of bemusement, his perception of the world around him blurred by an inescapable cloud of aristocracy, he rouses poignancy alongside his humour. The expressiveness of such a range of characters is testament, of course, not only to the actors themselves, but the excellent direction of Susanna Quirke. She delivers a slick, focussed production of a professional quality.

'Posh' adeptly raises its two fingers to the horrifying society it depicts. If only this were fantasy. Cameron, beware.

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Daniel Frampton

at 10:00 on 22nd Nov 2011

0agrees

1disagrees

The hype is real. Deeply disturbing, riotously funny and performed in the most perfect location, Posh at the Oxford Union really is quite something. Please excuse me, I am a little lost for words.

I think you all now the premise; inside the dining room of a rural self-styled gastropub, a group of ten boys meet for their raucous annual dinner. They are called the Riot Club. Except everyone knows that Laura Wade is aiming this right at the infamous Oxford Bullingdon Club. With ten bottles of wine and a ten bird roast that turns out only to comprise of nine birds, the evening soon develops into a orgy of violence, humiliation and extreme social snobbery.

The acting is superb, there is not a weak link in the production. The cold charm and arrogance of Harry Villiers, (Freddie Bowerman), the beautifully horseish and condescending Jeremy (Andrew McCormack) and king of Riot Club faux-pas, the restaurant owner Chris (Dom Ballard) are particularly notable. For me however, the real highlight is James Philips as the buffoonish George Balfour. Totally believable and strangely endearing as a drunkard, he only had to so much as open his mouth I burst the entire audience burst laughter--“Our roof’s got holes in it, you can fire a cow through”.

The director Susanna Quirke makes great use of the limited space, and the scene changes are especially slick considering the amount of crockery, cutlery and other assorted table items had to be placed onto the tables and then taken off again after the first and for the final scenes. Praise must also be given for staging the play in such a brilliant location. The play is abundant with references to the Union and the future political careers that its high ranking members hope they might be offered to because of it. Sitting inside its walls only makes these issues of class privilege even more arresting

There was some trouble with audibility. Even sitting in the second row I sometimes struggled to hear when actors turned away from me. Sitting up in the balcony this problem would only get worse. Perhaps also the play too is a little overlong. When the lights went down after an 90-minute first half I thought for a moment it was the end.

But these are minor quibbles that should not be allowed to detract from an overwhelmingly professional and polished production that is a remarkable spectacle to behold. We most definitely are not all Riot Club members but, sitting as we do within the extremely introspective culture of the ‘Oxford bubble’, the challenges Wade poses are important for us all to consider.

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