Posh is a difficult play to get right; the line between satire and parody is a hard one to navigate, as well as the tapestry of dark comedy and gritty social commentary. But Theatre Group hit the nail on the head. Their opening night was a wonderfully executed performance which was well-deserving of the standing ovation it received.
Laura Wade’s play is a fictional narrative inspired by Oxford University’s prestigious Bullingdon Club, which has been attended by current and past Prime Ministers such as Boris Johnson and David Cameron. The production stages the ten members of ‘The Riot Club’ at dinner, which gradually and eerily transforms from privileged silliness into utter destruction, including the sexual and physical assaults of the waitress and pub owner respectively. The play, therefore, is a form of theatre which at once entertains and sparks self-reflection, and director George Marlin guaranteed that both of these aspects shone through. Many of us have already seen the film adaption of the play, The Riot Club, starring Max Irons, Douglas Booth and Sam Claflin among others and, having re-watched the film in advance of this review, I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that TG’s actors pretty much matched their performance level.
The use of traverse rather than end-on staging made the production incredibly immersive, which added such value to this play. Through this choice and relatively bright lighting, as an audience member I was able to see the actors on stage, the people around me and the audience at the far end of the stage. While in other plays this could be frustrating, or could even take away from how immersive a play is, this was a clever choice for such a politically charged production. You are unable to be a comfortably passive watcher; instead you are forced into becoming an active member within the space. You become so aware not only of the actors on stage, but of your own reactions and those of others around you. The audience across from you almost become part of the spectacle, and you begin to question what makes you and other people laugh. In a play focused around white-upper-class-male privilege, being encouraged to reflect upon your own position in the room- and by extension, the wider social world- is incredibly important.
Every actor on stage delivered their roles with vigour, sophistication and expertise (I will list the entire cast below to give them all credit), especially considering the fact they remained on stage for over an hour without pause. All fully embodied their roles so believably and naturally that the realities of the privilege I was watching became all the more concerning. No one crossed the line into parody and everyone offered something unique to their characters so that individual personalities consistently shone through. The frequent ad-libs and overlapping of conversations simulated a life-like dinner party setting which did not lose pace. The highlights for me were Amelia Hampton-Williams (Alistair), Josie Francis (George), Will Chambers (Harry), and Matty Edgar (Guy); these characters all had quite varied quirks and traits, but the actors made these shine through so strongly which made them particularly memorable. I want also to give great credit to the non-Riot Club members whose performances were no less impressive, particularly Sammy Parmenter (playing Chris the pub owner), who broke my heart when he delivered the line ‘what have you done to my pub?’, and Lucy Shelley (playing Rachel the waitress), who played a very sensitive, difficult role as a woman among the worst of men. She handled the sexual assault scene extremely well, her balance of emotion was on point, and she gave her character a strength I wasn’t expecting.
The gender-blind casting also added a new dynamic to the play as a whole. While I do feel as though, by the end of the show, I was barely aware of the gender difference, I felt that adding a sense of femininity was a good decision. To have potentially the most horrendous male character, Alistair (who throws the first punch and has some very obscene lines), be played by a woman added a nice dimension to the role. Not only did it allow a brilliant female actress to play a key role usually automatically occupied by a man, but it made me listen and reflect more. Listening to a man making such explicit statements may have made me simply reject him and be repulsed by him as a character, but Hampton-Williams made him vulnerable. She never portrayed him as a victim, but as someone deeply insecure and in need of approval and submission from the others; she never allowed him to be one-dimensional and this added some real substance and complexity which I credit her for.
There are so many aspects of this play that are worth discussion, but to keep it relatively concise I will sum up how I feel about the production overall: it was thought-provoking, complex, sophisticated and offered opportunities for self-reflection about oneself in the world. The dark comedy intertwined so well with a very poignant, extremely relevant social commentary which was accessible to everyone, regardless of age or prior interest in theatre. There are no improvements worth suggesting in this case that would be relevant within all the positives; it is one of the most well-constructed shows I have seen at Leeds, and felt less like student theatre than professional performance.
To read the interview with the cast and crew click here: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/thescribetheatrereview.wordpress.com/688
CAST: Harry Dyer Amelia Hampton-Williams Joe O’Connor Will Chambers Matty Edgar Maria North Josie Francis Joshua House Jamie Walker Lydia Duval
CREW: Director- George Marlin Assistant Director- Yasmin Rapley Producer- Abby Barker Assistant Producers- Natalia Karempetsou and Emilie Clarke Shadow directors- Joe Perrin, Ellie Mullins and Emily Escott Set designer- Ell Johnson