Posh, Pleasance Theatre

By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The Riot Club – a place for “getting fucked, and fucking stuff up.” This is certainly evident throughout the rollercoaster that is Posh, the critically acclaimed play by Laura Wade. Cressida Carré’s clever direction effectively demonstrates the pack mentality that is in place in this environment, investigating how far people are willing to go to keep the tribe strong – to preserve the thoroughbred.

The lighting choices from William Reynolds provide particular moments of pleasure. His harsh design works well with Carré’s set transitions – it’s nice to see the juxtaposition between a riot and the delicately slow movement sequences. Sara Perks’ set is simple, yet effective. A gorgeous chandelier hangs from the ceiling over an aesthetically pleasing dining table that seats these ten individuals. The slow revolve of the set is particularly seductive.

The cast are a dream and work well together in a tight-knit ensemble. Verity Kirk as Ed Montgomery is the definite star of the show – I find myself watching her even when she isn’t the main focus. Her random outbursts provoke roars of laughter from the audience and her mannerisms and character quirks are well thought out moments of genius. Alice Brittain is fascinatingly antagonistic as the misogynist Harry Villiers and Serena Jennings is particularly compelling to watch in her portrayal of Alistair Ryle. Credit must be given to her for taking up this role only weeks before production began. She effectively gets across Alistair’s hostile and barbaric behaviour – the way she delivers the text is haunting, yet beautiful to watch.

Gender inequality and class-based issues are most definitely topics that are relevant for discussion today, but I find it hard to recognise that this production is particularly challenging of them. In the programme Wade talks about the all-female aspect of the production saying that she is often asked what Posh would have been like if there were women in the Riot Club instead of men, mentioning that with this interpretation she could get the chance to find out. Sadly, we don’t, as male pronouns are still used to identify the characters. On the previous page it says:

“At the same time it’s not about women playing men; it’s about women fulfilling the same roles that men play – an important distinction.”

Yet this is a complete contradiction to what is presented on stage. The women play men, brilliantly so, and their characterisation of male traits is sublime, but it feels off-putting every time a character is referenced as “he”. It makes me question whether or not the concept of an all-female cast has been particularly thought through. There is no doubt that these actresses are capable enough to play these roles and are deserving of them, yet the use of male pronouns throughout completely undermines the argument made in the programme. If you want to make the point that women can fulfil the same roles as men, then have the characters defined as women.

The play certainly packs a punch, but this is due to Wade’s quick-witted, electric dialogue and the performances from twelve incredibly gifted actresses. This is a good concept, but it seems to be one without substance or reasoning behind it.

Posh runs through 22 April.

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