BWW Review: POSH, Pleasance Theatre
When Laura Wade's Posh premiered at the Royal Court in 2010, its dark promise that these destructive student toffs - members of the Riot Club, a loosely fictional version of Oxford's Bullington - would one day run the country had a timely frisson: former club members David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson occupied Downing Street and the mayoral office respectively.Cressida Carre's revival aims for contemporary resonance of a different sort by employing an all-female company in this regressive age of Trump and Farage, drawing closer attention to the play's deconstruction of gender, alongside class. It's an interesting proposition, but a scattershot approach means the cross-casting isn't really that radical an interpretation.
There's a lack of consistency, with some playing men naturalistically, others emphasising the costuming element of drag (male names and pronouns are retained). The broader playing style is effective in highlighting the absurdly performative masculinity of this entitled but naïve group, who self-consciously don boorish speech and modes of behaviour just as they do the club's regalia and arcane rules. But it sometimes exchanges grotesque for outright cartoon, losing the rhythm of Wade's wit and nuance of her satire - and its grim believability.
In Sara Perks' design, the rural gastropub where the club meets juxtaposes fine dining with the rubble-strewn aftermath of some terrible event, and the production does capture an uneasily familiar sense of an apocalyptic last stand: the backlash of the formerly powerful against a progressive agenda, prepared to burn the world down if it doesn't suit them. William Reynolds' strobe lighting adds a hellish touch to the tableaux of anarchistic hedonism.
Wade's piece astutely illustrates how jokey "banter" can quickly elide into sexual threat, and how challenge to an assumption of privilege can lead to violence, but Carre's production lacks a real sense of danger. Serena Jennings is unsettling as the inciting Alistair, but needs more insidious nastiness, and the climactic set-piece is too tame.
It's more successful in the comical yet occasionally poignant rich kid excess, from Macy Nyman's endearingly clueless Balfour to Molly Hanson's hard-partying Toby and, in particular, Verity Kirk's giddy idiot Ed. There are cracking turns from Alice Brittain as swashbuckling womaniser Harry (giving David Tennant's Don Juan a run for his money) and Sarah Thom, the latter doubling up as the chirpily oblivious landlord and laconic lord, making shadowy deals in his private members' club.
As British politics and divided society in microcosm, Wade's play certainly still has bite, and this production is a welcome continuation of the cross-casting trend that gives meatier parts to comparatively neglected actresses. But, while an intriguing provocation, it's neither a totally convincing account of her work, nor a revolutionary reappraisal of it.
Photo credit: Darren Bell