In a week when the 'born to rule' attitude of Old Etonians in power threatening the freedom of the many has faced vocal widespread scrutiny, resulting in real-life politics being more dramatic than many episodes of Game of Thrones, the triumphant return of Posh, an examination of a fictionalized version of Oxford University's notorious Bullingdon Club, could hardly be more timely.
The action predominantly takes place in a single setting, the private dining room of a country pub, where the Riot Club's planned night of debauchery is disguised as a meeting of young entrepreneurs. The club has not been able to meet for two (Oxford University) terms due to being exposed in the Daily Mail, and as a result this dinner takes on a symbolic meaning for its members. Some see it as their chance to make their mark in preparation for a future presidential bid, others as an opportunity for a rebirth in a time when they feel under attack, another is in it for the indulgent food. Their varying motivations result in converging aims: to get as drunk as possible and trash the place. Things turn particularly nasty when their privileged delusions clash with reality (!); their behaviour is met with resistance from the pub’s landlord and they can’t accept that normal rules and laws apply to them.
My expectations about the play, based in part on the 2014 film adaptation, The Riot Club (which takes an overall bleaker tone), and partly on its reputation as an allegory for today, was that my evening at the Playhouse would fill me with fury at the state of our system. What is striking about Laura Wade's script, however, is the achievement of making an enraging political point so deftly, carried along by fast-paced humour. In several places, I found myself laughing out loud, sometimes even with (in addition to at), the deliciously vile characters. The enthusiastically clueless Guy Bellingfield, for example (brought to life with great energy by Adam Mirsky), enjoys hints of Jeeves and Worcester in his interactions with his disapproving godfather (a Club alumnus who is now a Lord).
The ensemble cast of club members are all given enough of a spotlight to make them more than just ciphers, each instead demonstrating a different mixture facets of the hyper-elite young men: aggression, ambition and entitlement are tempered by a level of self-consciousness, needing to prove oneself, and, in most of them, a sense of warped moral conflict, making them occasionally pathetic and sympathetic. The accents are all on point, particularly in the sneering Alastair Ryle, whose every line is infused with slimy cynicism and bitterness by Tyger Drew-Honey. Combined with the tailcoats and the classically-decorated dining room, the RP delivery gives the production a timeless quality: we are struck by its continued (and renewed) relevance to today as to nine years ago when it debuted, but equally, minus a few references, it could sadly relate to the political situation a countless number of times over the past century. This impression is reinforced by theatrical elements of Shakespearean tragedy with the appearance of a ghost - though unconstrained by the usual conventions of politeness, the characters voice their thoughts directly in their dialogue, rather than through treacherous asides.
The production employs a full arsenal of clever theatrical devices, perfectly-cast characters, stark imagery (effectively contrasted with a luxurious set) and sharp direction to ensure the entertaining delivery of a sobering message. There were too many perfectly-on-the-nose lines for me to quote here, so you’ll have to snap up a ticket to go and see the show for yourself.