Cressida Carré’s all-female production of Laura Wade’s Posh pisses me off, but I can’t work out why. It might be because it’s shit. Or it might be because it’s all-female, in which case I’m a shit. Or it might be because we’re so used to Old Etonians completely trashing things, like the country, that it doesn‘t impact on us like it did seven years ago, in which case the world is shit. Or, it might be that it’s supposed to piss me off, in which case nothing’s shit.
To start with, it’s not the first thing. Carré‘s production has its clunky moments – the play’s violent apotheosis is crudely done with strobe lighting and fake punches, for example – but it’s sumptuously staged and boasts a collection of fine performances. The private dining room in which the ten members of Oxford’s Bullingdon – sorry, Riot – Club wine, dine and decline is realised as a burnt-out shell of a room, the only vivid feature of which is a resplendently laid circular table: a court fit for Lord Riot and his merry-makers.
And the ten rioters – dressed to the nines in cravat and coat-tails – are all up to the job. Verity Kirk’s squeaking newbie Ed, Amani Zardoe’s wannabee big-shot Guy, and Serena Jennings’ boisterously hot-blooded Alistair are all particularly good, as is Sarah Thom, multi-roling as a Tory Peer and the Riot Club’s reluctant, unfortunate, salt-of-the-earth host for the evening.
Is it the all-female thing then? 10 women in 10 male roles, it’s enough to give Dominic Cavendish palpitations. Wade’s play works partly because it riffs upon a recognisable male stereotype: the posh, privately-educated Oxbridge twat with a title in the offing, a cabinet job awaiting, and half of a home county to call a back garden. And, England being England, there isn’t an obvious female equivalent for Carré‘s cast to play up to. A satire only works if it’s satirising something, right?
Well, maybe. On those grounds, I can certainly see more of an argument for objecting to an all-female Posh than a gender-blind Twelfth Night, but – before I get lynched – it’s a pretty flimsy argument to make. After all, the gender pronouns might not have changed, but these aren’t women playing male roles; they’re women playing women, who in this production, have assumed traditionally male societal positions. Carré is forging an entirely new stereotype. There’s a point to it, in short. Quite what the point is, apart from women can be stuck-up, nepotistic bastards as much as men can, I’m not sure. I think it’s a statement about women in positions of power, but I could be wrong.
Is it, then, that Wade’s play isn’t as relevant as it was in 2010, when it first appeared at the Royal Court? We know all about the Bullingdon Club now, and what David Cameron did with a pig’s head. We’ve seen the photos of Cameron, Osborne and Johnson, posing like the unbearable arseholes they are. We’ve all read Owen Jones’ book. Some of us have seen Lone Scherfig’s film adaptation (of Wade’s play, not Jones’ book). It’s all out in the open; this stuff doesn’t grip like it used to. “Buller” has only got 2 members left: it’s going extinct.
On the contrary, it seems that the backwards-looking jingoism of Posh is more pertinent now than ever. Theresa May might have appointed the least-private-schooled cabinet since Attlee, but 30% of them still went to fee-paying establishments. Over 50% of Tory MPs went to Oxford. George Osborne just got appointed editor of the Evening Standard, for Christ’s sake, despite being glaringly underqualified for the job. And the spectre at every feast, Brexit, has shown us just where entitled Old Etonians given too much power can lead us. Class lines in Britain might be being redrawn, but scars don’t heal. Old habits die hard, the greasy wheel keeps turning, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a prejudice that hides in plain sight.
So, if it’s not the production, or the casting, or the context that annoys me, it must be the fourth thing: Wade’s play is supposed to get under your skin. It’s supposed to make you furious about the circles within circles that privilege someone based on their father’s surname. To disgust you with it’s unapologetic spectacle of aristocratic decadence and debauchery. To make you feel a twinge of guilt because, admit it, some of it does look quite fun. To make you want to leave the theatre and punch the next privately-educated person you meet. And it does.
So, yeah, it must be that. Right?
Posh is on at Pleasance until 22nd April 2017. Click here for more details.