Tuesday, April 4, 2017

'Posh' at the Pleasance Theatre, 3rd April 2017

POSH reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Laura Wade's POSH made its debut during the 2010 General Election, where the last farts of New Labour did battle with the preeningly self-styled 'compassionate' Conservatives led by David Cameron. With all that's happened since it's difficult to remember the Cameron advertised to us during that election: a man with green credentials who once went dog-sledding to examine melting glaciers, or urged the public to 'hug a hoodie'.

Wade set out to reveal the 'real' David Cameron, along with his cohorts George Osborne and Boris Johnson, in her loosely fictionalised peek into their student activities in the Bullingdon Club, a dining society that reportedly requires new members to burn a £50 note in front of a homeless person and are famous for practically demolishing the buildings they hire out.

Taking inspiration from the club's 2005 trashing of an Oxfordshire pub, the play introduced us to a gang of predatory rich boys who use the club to act out their frustrations. Though not a direct dramatisation of Cameron, Osborne, and Johnson's time in the club, it was all too easy to draw parallels between the bastards on stage and the bastards on the news.

Now POSH is back, with a twist. This is an all-women production, advertised in hot pink lettering with a punky lipstick smooch. The script remains the same, with masculine pronouns, the characters talking about jizzing and grabbing their cocks, and the misogynistic entitlement all preserved.

The immediate effect is that the club's already self-conscious masculinity becomes utterly ridiculous. It was ridiculous in the original too, but this step away from realism underlines how desperately these rich boys are trying to paint themselves as alpha male leaders of men, that are born to rule, in spite of their poisonous cowardice and inferiority complexes. 

POSH shows them hilariously failing to live up to their own standards - their much-vaunted ten bird roast is missing a guinea fowl, the prostitute hired to crawl around under the table and suck their dicks departs in disgust, and the landlord's daughter casually punctures their Wildean pretensions of wit. It leaves them looking deeply silly: women pretending to be boys pretending to be men.

The all-women cast also goes someway to dispelling the hate and disgust you feel towards the characters. When they're played by men the overriding feeling is of privileged revulsion - you start cheerily imagining the resurrection of the guillotine. But it's difficult to hate women with the same intensity. That probably shouldn't be the case, but at least for me, it is. 

What that meant is that you I felt a tiny morsel of sympathy for these monsters. Nobody's pulling out handkerchiefs, but, as they explain, they're trapped in a world that laughs at them behind their backs, are generally denied the respect they feel entitled to, and their childhood homes are full of wandering National Trust members. I mean, boo fucking hoo, let's break out the tiny violins, right? But this does at least give the Bullingdon Club a sense of purpose - to allow its members to act out the privilege they're generally forced to suppress.

Cressida Carré's confident direction ensures that this is a handsomely staged and performed production. The dinner takes place around a wooden table that subtly paints the diners as a modern Camelot, and is lit in a way that draws impressed gasps from the audience once it's revealed. A revolving floor solves any problems of blocking, as well as conveying the increasingly boozed-out state of the participants.

Performances are top class too, the cast clearly having fun with the blustering testosterone hip thrusting. My highlights were Alice Brittain's would-be Flashheart Harry, Serena Jennings' demagoguish ogre, who appears to take oratory cues from Enoch Powell, and Verity Kirk's club newbie, who provides the lion's share of the show's laughs.

The only downside (aside from some crap stage fighting) is that the show's white-hot relevance has definitely cooled with the departure of Cameron and Osborne from front-line politics (though Johnson continues to squat uselessly in the Foreign Office like some great toad). Theresa May, for all her faults, carried out a necessary purge of toffish public schoolboys when she took office, with the majority of her high-profile ministerial briefs attending state school.

Despite the programme attempting to place the play within the context of Theresa May's government and, more vaguely, alongside the Trump-induced Women's Marches that took place around the world in January, it doesn't quite fly. While it's nice to see women performing anti-feminine parts, the intention feels less to make a political point and simply that cross-casting is an interesting theatrical experiment.

And sometimes that's more than enough. POSH is a pacey, entertaining play with a barb as sharp as a scorpion's tail. Two hours and forty minutes fly by in a hail of bodily fluids, broken tables and bruised egos, the cast summoning up the thick fug of frantic performative masculinity that Wade's writing demands. Though its edge is dulled by the departure of the Bullingdon boys from Number 10, POSH is still a fearsomely crafted weapon.

POSH is at the Pleasance Theatre until 22nd April. Tickets here.

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