Fighting Chance Productions, PAL Theatre, 14th - 29th September 2017
My Two Cents
By Lillian Jasper
Posh is a difficult play to love. The premise is that ten male Oxford students are members of a secret dining club in which they eat and drink to excess and generally do as much damage while having as much fun as possible. Money is no object to them. They are Britain’s 1%, the privileged few. They are the Riot Club.
Fighting Chance does an outstanding job with the material. Riaan Smit throws himself unreservedly into the role of Alistair, spewing vitriol with horrifying conviction. Kevin Hatch as Hugo is elegant and charming throughout and was the only character among the Rioters that I had any respect for by the end of the play. Toby Maitland is convincingly sloshed for most of the evening’s proceedings, David Z. Cohen teeters deftly between smooth confidence and manic desperation. The script gives a few of them more to work with and therefore they may shine a bit brighter, but they all hold their own (though some of the accents are less than authentic). For the most part, all ten are on stage for two and a half hours. It looks like tremendous fun playing such “toffers”, but it can’t be easy. In their smaller roles, the women (Mariela Shuley and Caroline Doyle) are breaths of fresh air that dissipate (or sometimes elevate) the testosterone in the room.
Production-wise, it’s as polished as the silverware (save for an oddly crafted roast). The set, the music, lighting, costumes all helped set the tone. Director Allyson Fournier has an excellent handle on the 3/4 round, keeping the focus where it needs to be, while still given us plenty to look at if even if our sightlines aren’t ideal. The pace is lively despite the running time - there’s never a dull moment. Despite the jokes, the debauchery, the silly rituals, the games, there is a seething undercurrent of tension that threatens to plunge the proceedings into chaos at any given moment.
Ultimately, this is a play about highly privileged young white men doing whatever the fuck they like, consequences be damned, because they can pay for their damages. I love that it was written by a woman (Laura Wade), and that it was directed by a woman, because it means unequivocally that this kind of behaviour must be condemned. Wade and Fournier are merciless with these boys, as well they should be. It is nonetheless frustrating, for what can we do other than shed light on these men of privilege? Can we actually stop them? We can make a stand with theatre like this and say that it is unacceptable, but what will that get us except the moral high ground? Is that enough? The Riot Club is based on the real-life Bullingdon Club, which boasts former members that are now CEOs and high-ranking members of government. The show offers us no solutions. Perhaps there aren’t any.
Posh is a bold and unexpected choice to start off Fighting Chance’s season. It will no doubt be polarizing, but it’s more timely now than ever.