Posh at the Drama Barn

Last night Drama Society played host to the stark dichotomy ever present in British society: that between poor and rich; those publicly and privately educated; the working class and the ‘Posh.’ Laura Wade’s epic play – on which last year’s film The Riot Club was based – depicts the antics of the modern day Riot Club, Oxford University’s infamous elite society. Violent and jarring, it reveals the dark underside and unsettling instability of the upper classes in an unforgettable way.

Every character was intricately nuanced, distinct and constantly engaged

The plot follows the ten members of the Riot Club in an evening of celebratory revelry, exploring the lives of the wealthy up-and-coming youth of the modern day. Credit must go first to the incredibly talented cast, who carried the two and a half hour show without letting the pace drop. Indeed, in such a large company – that saw, for the most part, at least ten on stage at once – it was remarkable to see such a strong performance from all. Every character was intricately nuanced, distinct and constantly engaged. Praise for this must go to both Wade’s writing and the cast’s incredible acting talent. Declan Dillane as Alistair Ryle, the most malicious member of the club, shined: his monologues on the declining status of the upper elite and the changing nature of relations in society were emphatic and ominously persuasive. In a predominately male cast, the performances of two female characters, Rachel (Rosie Jane Copland-Mann) and Charlie (Becca Waugh) were equally noteworthy. In the face of a wealth of extremely strong acting – let alone the physical and sexual violence that pervaded their scenes – their subtle skill was remarkable.

The setting cleverly reflects the tensions and dynamics of the club throughout the play; initially simple, the single set of a pub’s private dining room begins to dissemble and splinter as the club becomes drunker, rowdier and more fractured. The action comes extremely close to the front row – perhaps a warning to the audience – heightening the intensity tenfold. This proximity instills a sense of claustrophobia, increasing the sense that the boys are trapped by their privileges and expectations, regardless of the many benefits. Nevertheless, the horse-shoe dining table facing the audience retains the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ enforcing the rigid social distinction and hierarchy implied. The music also added a sinister element to the play, especially at the beginning where ties and tails were still in place. Songs such as The Dø’s ‘Keeps Your Lips Sealed’ and Pulp’s ‘Common People’ highlight the dark undertones of the play and the hidden thoughts of the club’s members, even if they are yet to reveal them themselves.

This is especially stark in the light of the real-life comparable Bullingdon Club, of which David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne are all ex-members

Though the verbal and physical abuse that permeates the play is perhaps initially the most shocking, it is the political discourse that presents the most disturbing element. Whilst the show appearance of Lord Ryott’s presence taking over a member of the club is a somewhat unnecessary and certainly unexplained irregularity, the majority of the show rests on the reality of the political circumstances seen in Britain. The play daringly examines the effects of the recent political and economic changes on the upper classes and their future prospects; a controversial topic rarely approached and discussed. More worryingly, however, is the question as to how close such violent and domineering attitudes reflect the realities of such elitist societies. This is especially stark in the light of the real-life comparable Bullingdon Club, of which David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne are all ex-members.

‘Posh’ is disturbingly impactful and cleverly written; yet, whilst the piece itself is an incredible work, the credit here must go to the cast and entire team for pulling together such a daring and powerful performance, the likes of which are rare outside of professional acting. It’s stunning.