After a truly indulgent day attending ‘Off the Shelf at Black’s’, a writing workshop at Black’s members club (for more upon which, stay tuned), I traipsed off to ‘Posh’ at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
During the interval I remarked to a friend that it was a bit like the first half of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ mixed with a sort of ‘Drones Club: Uncensored’ ethos. But I was wrong. The first half of the play was indeed a little bit like that: the arrogance and pompousness of the young gentlemen towards the landlord rung the same bell that Goldsmith did in ‘She Stoops’. Certainly the frivolous (though flawlessly worn, Jeeves) dining costume of the Riot Club members, their silly little games, their ceremonious ridiculousness, and the early glimpses of their sense that they were above the mere formalities of plebian law all echoed the Drones Club, albeit more scatalogical, darker, angrier.
Interspersed between the slow build of the rage, the growing sense of anger fizzing back and forth across the set, there were cut-glass accented a capella covers of contemporary pop songs. (Posh-capella, as I shall now call this for the rest of my days.) This lent a much-needed levity to the proceedings for it was only during these interludes that the young men displayed any sense that they were, in fact, socialized creatures. Only in these breaks was there a glimmer that they were each mother’s sons capable of holding a tune; that they were, in fact, anything more than the howling, fanged animals in tailcoats they increasingly resembled as the evening progressed. Not so much overtones of the Drones Club, more like a fully grown, waistcoated ‘Lord of the Flies’.
In the end the play took a truly sinister turn. This was not poshness on display as a thing to be laughed at, as a stingless wasp to be belittled and scoffed at, oh no. This was poshness as licensed sociopathy. This was a world in which the very worst impulses, the most dehumanizing acts, became somehow the basis for systematically increased power.
I found this play far more frightening than anything I’ve seen this year. I left the theatre on unsteady legs, because this was a fear that couldn’t be shaken off. No, this fear wasn’t about something scary that I could leave behind when I went out the lobby doors, but rather a fear about the world I was entering.
On a technical note, the staging employing its clever use of scrims painted with old boys in old military regalia was superb. It was also evident how physically demanding the play was on the whole cast. The admirable commitment of the actors throughout all is part of what made the evening so electric for me.