Laura Wade’s ‘Posh’ caused this reviewer more than a little discomfort and unease. I watched it from within the environs of the Royal Court in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea — notable for being the launch-pad for social realism and gritty, working-class “kitchen-sink” dramas such John Osborne’s 1956 'Look back in Anger'.
In 'Posh', The story of 10 Oxford undergraduates, all members of an elite dining society, The Riot Club (not too dissimilar from The Bullingdon of George Osborne, David Cameron, Boris Johnson et al.), begins in the private dining room of The Bull’s Head. Four of the party have taken on different elements of the planning of the night’s “festivities”, in an attempt to “up” their profiles, impress their cohorts, and thus smooth the way for a possible slide into the retiring President’s chair.
It is this play of rivalries which drives the drama forward. As the boys imbibe industrial quantities of the finest wines, tales of extreme hardship are traded — “so my mother and father are stuck in this tiny little sitting room upstairs, huddled round a gas fire, rooms all round them getting opened up to visitors ‘cause they got some cunting tapestry, or William of Orange slept there. Next time I go back they’ll have stuck them in the fucking Buttery.” Paeans to the Club’s founding father, Lord Ryott, are delivered. Couplets of dedication are expounded: “you, new members whose minds were made in Harrow (and Eton) show us here the greatness of your drinking.”
Each change of scene is punctuated by the surreal spectacle of the assembled “rioters” singing (a cappella style) rap and R & B songs in their polished RP, cut-glass accents, accompanied by body-popping, dancing and gyrations.
These comic disjunctures and humorous asides little prepare you for the aggressive discourse on Britain’s caste structure from Alistair (the outspoken, true-blue, class warrior of the group): “families like ours have looked after this country for hundreds of years, they’re uniquely qualified, why do we have to pretend everyone’s the same?” And later: “how did they get everywhere, how did they make everything so fucking second-rate… I mean I am sick, I am sick to fucking death of poor people.”
This drunken, rabid class “analysis” spurs on the lads, leading to the assault on Rachel, the landlord’s daughter, the finely staged choreography of the “room trash” and the horrifically realistic, near-fatal thrashing of the landlord himself, after his refusal to accept the usual Riot Club “pay-off”.
'Posh' is well-constructed; humorous, insightful of upper/upper-middle class mores and customs; knowing and disturbing in unequal part. The sensations of unease and discomfort were engendered by the fact of watching the play a few days after the formation of the coalition. These people were well and truly back in the saddle.
Not that they ever went away; they were always ever present as industrial commanders, military leaders and top-ranking civil servants. The aristocratic Alan Clarke “type”, whose appearance bookends the drama, explains the links that bind these establishment figures together thus: “my first dinner they rolled me down a hill in a barrel of prunes. Sick all over myself of course, but the chap being rolled down the hill next to me, he pretty much runs the country now, and I’m not talking about the PM.”