“Everything’s political” spouts one of the members of the infamous (fictional) Riot Club, an elite student dining society. He’s talking of what he sees as liberal middle-class 95% mortgage ridiculousness – but the same applies when watching, and reading the meaning of, this thunderous new all-female version of Posh.
In the private dining room of a gastro pub, 10 of England’s ‘finest’ meet to restore tradition. Their termly dinners have lapsed due to a recent public scandal and. With cut-glass vowels and deep pockets, the members of The Riot Club are bunkering down for a wild night of debauchery, decadence and dozens of bottles of wine.
President James – and aspiring president, Guy – have vowed to keep the occasion manageable. As the members arrive, the audience learns this is no normal club – with no normal members. The men are hell-bent on destruction, just because they can.
When James finally arrives, proceedings can begin – and boy do they spiral. A prostitute is ushered through a window, a waitress kissed against her will, a landlord beaten up and a dining room destroyed. But who will get the blame? Who deserves it – in a world where these boys are entitled to everything?
The play itself has received critical acclaim. Having opened at The Royal Court in 2010, starring Kit Harrington and James Norton, the production transferred to the West End in 2012 before going into production as a feature film in 2014.
The reason is clear: the story – its characters and actions – is car-crash worthy as material goes. You hate them, you want them to fail – and you want to see it happen. You’re waiting for their comeuppance, athough whether it ever comes is left open to interpretation.
Laura Wade is an extremely talented playwright whose award-winning work has received productions at The Royal Court, Soho Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith, as well as in countries worldwide. The play is funny, infuriating, compelling and surprisingly accessible.
Its characters – no matter how unlikeable – are rounded and believable. Some even tug on your heartstrings, Ed in particular. There is only one particularly odd moment in what otherwise is a (frustratingly) plausible plot, where the body of passed-out Toby Maitland is embodied by the ghost of Lord Ryott.
Award-winning director and choreographer Cressida Carré has created a smooth production from the rubble of excess and entitlement. Her direction is clear, ensemble-based, and intuitive. She comments that there are “very few plays around that have so many strong roles for women” and that re-gendering the production “gives [female actors] that opportunity” so often afforded to men. “Why not?”, she asks.
Embracing that everything is political, the philosophy is clear: as well as receiving less (or at least, less complex) opportunities, female actors face additional pressures and hurdles that for a long time have gone unchallenged. The programme notes make an important distinction: that the re-gendering is “not about women playing men; it’s about women fulfilling the same roles that men play”.
However, can political principle be allowed to override artistic intention? Laura Wade finds the concept “fascinating” however it is clear from the play’s writing that the piece is inextricably about men, men’s problems, and the problems caused by men. What does having women play these roles add to – or subtract from – the true political message or even the narrative of the piece?
The proof, of course, is in the pudding. The twelve-strong, all-female ensemble work incredibly well and incredibly hard together. The script is dialogue (and monologue) heavy, yet Carré is able to direct a visceral, corporal production. Whilst there are strong moments from all cast members, Serena Jennings, a relatively last minute replacement for Game of Thrones star Hannah Murray, is a stand-out, particularly while delivering Alistair’s fiery and offensive rants.
The trinity of buffoons – Ed (Verity Kirk), Toby (Molly Hanson) and George (Macy Nyman) – create a lasting impression, while Sarah Thom and Toni Peach, as the play’s only non-club characters, bring a maturity and recognisable normality to proceedings.
Although not about ‘playing men’, it is impossible not to seek out verisimilitude. Some actors achieve (or exhibit) this more convincingly than others, however by midway through the first act, any active comparisons subside.
The production elements are confident and convincing, bar the strobe’s somewhat erratic tendencies. The Riot Club uniform is smart and pompous, and the masculinised dress of actors when out of Club gear is structured yet sympathetic.
The set consists of a large central table on a revolve in a room with bumpy, bog green walls. Props and dressing are detailed however leaves you yearning for more mess and destruction. The sound design is largely angry, male-led rock, employed chiefly during transitional or choreographed moments.
Posh is a play worth remounting, and this production one worth remembering. Unique and principled – unlike any of the Riot Club’s members – this version goes some way to redressing the everyday gender imbalance of the London stage.
It is easy to overthink the meaning of the production’s gender bending and ignore the case in hand: twelve talented female actors performing in a funny, fiery and finessed production.