at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Friday 23rd April 2010
On Posh, Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel recently said that “if the entire country was forced to sit through it there would never be a Conservative government again”. A truer word has never been said. Laura Wade’s new play is a scathing, cutting and angry attack on the English upper class, who have no respect or understanding for those not as fortunate as they.
The play starts as a comedy, taking sly digs at the Riot Club, a group of ten young Oxford men whose primary aim is to get absolutely “chateaued”. We even see elements of farce in the first act with misplaced entrances, double bookings and bad planning, meaning that rather than their usual private dining rooms the club is forced to meet in the back room of a “gastro-pub”. Wade’s narrative takes a turn, however, at the end of the first half as Leo Bill’s pompous Alistair Ryle rouses his peers in an incredible speech damning the lower classes and finishing with the exclamation “I am sick to fucking death of poor people”.
The second half of the play, however, ends in disaster and shows how shortsighted those in possession of wealth and power are. The narrative drives itself to the inevitable but shocking climax which is made more unbearable as Ryle admits that he doesn’t regret the tragedy. Wade leaves us feeling let down by our traditions and let down by our politicians, but this is exactly the point; we cannot go on like this and any form of hereditary power simply doesn’t have a place in our modern world.
The only characters for whom we have any sort of empathy are the pub landlord Chris, played with acute tenderness by Daniel Ryan, and his daughter Rachel, whom Fiona Button plays astonishingly truthfully. These two characters are we, the audience, unaware of what is going on behind the door to the Riot Club’s back room in society and yet far better than they can ever be.
Lyndsay Turner’s brilliant direction and Anthony Ward’s simple but effective design expose the horrors and pitfalls of upper class living, and the a capella renditions of contemporary songs such as Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’ further prove that these people, who try so hard to live in the 21st century, are still living in the 1800s. Maybe we could test Rachel Johnson’s statement and make this a compulsory viewing for the entire population; then we’ll see who wins the election. My guess is Cameron, Osborne and co wouldn’t be overly happy with the results.