POSH, Pleasance Theatre – Review

four-stars

Recent stage plays such as Steve Waters’ Limehouse and James Graham’s This House have shown that there is an appetite for what really goes on behind closed doors in British politics. Historically, many politicians have attended three major institutions, each more exclusive than the last: Public schools (Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow); Oxbridge colleges; and the most exclusive of all, the Bullingdon Club. An all-male students’ dining club, the Club’s wealthy members and grand banquets were synonymous with  vandalism and reprehensible behaviour. In addition, its inner circle of ex-public school alumni counts David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson among their number, which leads us onto Laura Wade’s play…

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Cassie Bradley as Dimitri Mitropulous, speaking to fellow member George (Macy Nyman)

Directed by Cressida Carré, Laura Wade’s POSH returns this month with one distinct difference – all the roles are played by women. The growing trend for all-women casts in Shakespearean productions bears fruit here as playing the complex, morally-flexible characters that often appear in the Bard’s political plays are a natural fit for POSH‘s amoral personae.

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Serena Jennings as Alistair

A fictionalised account of the goings on at the Bullingdon Club (known here as the Riot Club), POSH takes place at a Bedfordshire gastro pub. Harking back to the meal served at the very first Riot Club meeting, 10 birds (geese, duck, etc) have been stuffed into each other in order of size, the number of birds matching the members of the Club… Except the food is rarely the main topic of conversation and when it is, it is to complain only nine birds were used. Of course like all good stories, there is symbolic significance in this – a portent for the rest of the evening…

One of the big themes of the evening is privilege’s relationship to accountability and the Club’s inability  to find the congruity in this. In this day and age where the world of Downton Abbey has a certain cache, estates are very much of (inter)national interest and the National Trust. Feeling aggrieved that they are dependent on the footfall of vistors for the upkeep of stately homes, the shift in power has gone from the families of those in ‘ the Club’ to their ‘inferiors’. The privileged have ‘had’ to also accept the ‘weaker’ values of prudence and unilateral respect for all as their own. Having been told for several years that they were the best of the best, masters of the universe who are destined to rule Britain, their present situation is a galling prospect –  as if they’ve been robbed of their natural birthright. The play sees them turning on each other before venting their frustration on other people…

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Rockin’ out to songs by Joan Jett…

Watching the play and hearing the contemptuous remarks towards those outside their circle, I was reminded of Robert Lindsay’s Wolfie from the sitcom Citizen Smith, whose catchphrase was “Come the revolution..!” If ever a clean slate was needed it was here. I also had another epiphany: that the feral, inhumane public schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies were standing right in front me – a little older perhaps, but devoid of culture, compassion and humanity.

I’ve used broad strokes to describe the group, but Wade takes pains to differentiate between them their motives, experiences and degrees of guilt. What with the female cast, parts of POSH can be compared to the banquet scene in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls – women together, but with very different agendas.

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Lucy Aarden as Hugo, rallying the group

Asides from the obvious ‘novelty’ of the all-female cast and the proof that women are just as adept at playing male roles, there are three things that we can learn from this production of POSH. Firstly, seeing the female cast speaking the disparaging comments that ‘the Club’ (and some men ) make, it’s blatantly obvious that women put up with a lot of verbal abuse and that their misgivings about behaviour are often ignored.

Secondly, we’re living at a time where Britain has a second female prime minister – one who very much  in her  rhetoric and actions tries to emulate Margaret Thatcher from 30+ years ago. Without getting into mudslinging, Thatcher was known as woman who behaved like a man – and the worst qualities of men at that. Is this what women in power and influence should emulate? What happened to feminine common sense and compassion? A world where women get ahead by assimilating men’s worst qualities would be a disaster. Which brings us on to my third point…

The other legacy of Thatcher as a woman in power was that she didn’t do anything to help other women break through the glass ceiling. In some parts of the world, a woman’s individual journey and progression  is an acceptable endgame of feminism. However in Britain, there is an inherent understanding that women who have broken through the glass ceiling and have influence should help other women to do so too so that progress isn’t a rare occurrence. Within the play, the members of ‘the Club’ talked a lot about looking out for each other, but when it came to the crunch, self-interest reared its head. The early part of POSH hints at the competitive nature of women in power and its counter-productive qualities. Again, if women aren’t assisting each other, who should?

Viewing POSH with all these things in mind, the play is rich with meaning and lays down the gauntlet for women as agents of change.

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© Michael Davis 2017

POSH runs at The Pleasance Theatre, London until 22nd April 2017.

CAST: Alice Brittain (Harry Villiers), Amani Zardoe (Guy Bellingfield), Cassie Bradley (Dimitri Mitropoulos), Gabby Wong (James Leightin-Masters), Jessica Siân (Miles Richards), Lucy Aarden (Hugo Fraser-Tyrwhitt), Macy Nyman (George Balfour), Molly Hanson (Toby Maitland), Sarah Thom (Jeremy/Chris), Serena Jennings (Alistair Ryle), Toni Peach (Rachel/Charlie), Verity Kirk (Ed Montgomery).

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