Notorious for its depiction of ‘The Riot Club’, a fictional, all-male society loosely-based on Oxford University’s infamous Bullingdon Club, Laura Wade’s Posh returns to the stage “with a capital BOOM”. London’s Pleasance Theatre plays host to the world’s first all-female revival of the play, a re-invention built on the opportunity for female actors to fulfil the roles of historically male characters. Directed by Off-West End award winner Cressida Carré and presented by Can’t Think Theatre Company, the play remains as it was written, including the ‘he’ pronouns, male references, and names. Originally staged at The Royal Court in 2010, Posh examines the world of the British upper-class through ten members of Oxford’s exclusive dining club. The group have reconvened for their termly barbaric banquet, an important dinner marking the renaissance of the brotherhood, and the exciting prospect of societal reign.
Designed by Sara Perks, the set is reminiscent of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In Camelot, the round table signified the valour, trustworthiness and equality of those who sat around it. Despite a similar principle, the code of chivalry possessed by Arthur’s knights and The Riot Club could not be further apart.
Enveloped in a white tablecloth, the round dining table in a private room at The Bulls Head is surrounded by ten red velvet chairs. Lit by a chandelier, the walls are blackened and appear parched, as if burnt. The wooden floorboards are sooty, and cinders furnish the remaining floor space. Perks’ design whispers of the gravitas of the club, as during dinner, the floor beneath the table spins on an axis that is separate from the rest of the world. Indeed, the society revolves around its termly dinners, and the set is built on upon this destructive metaphor. London is burning – cue The Riot Club.
The ten club members are dressed in their traditional uniform: specially made tailcoats in a navy blue, ivory silk lapel revers, double breasted monogrammed buttons, and a cerulean club tie, striped with ivory. The all-female cast make for a formidable ensemble, demonstrative of Carré’s accomplished directorial approach. There is an impressive display of masculine body language throughout: always nonchalant when sitting, legs spread apart in an emphasis of sexual strength. En masse, there is a competitive ambience of pack brutality, as each player fights to obtain the status of Alpha [Fe]male.
The sarcasm on offer is as rich as the members themselves, cigarettes hanging from their sneering, upturned lips, smoke polluting the already-poisonous atmosphere. Unlike gentlemen, their ‘playfulness’ has no savoir-vivre. Their obnoxious behaviour is particularly offensive in one exchange with the landlord’s daughter, Rachel (played by Toni Peach). Despite the all-female cast, the act of sexual assault retains its horrific poignancy – a brilliant display of skill by all. No hint of sexism is forgone, and it is all too easy to forget that the actors are female given the authenticity of their performances.
Posh is a richly comic play and this production includes a couple of star turns, particularly from the character of Ed Montgomery (played by Verity Kirk). Her voice carries through the space like the roar of a lion cub with a trust fund. New to the club, her eyes widen at the idea that the brotherhood was “started by a girl”. Nevertheless, she joins the troupe as they raise their wine glasses in a salute: “The Lady Anne!”, and she is last to drain her Bordeaux in a celebration of their feminine creator.
Here’s to The Lady Anne. Very well done.
Posh is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until April 22.
Photo: Darren Bell