Posh: Is it worth spending an evening with these toffee-nosed gits?

Fighting Chance Productions is producing Posh at the PAL Theatre.

In Posh, the characters wear dusty-rose cummerbunds, even though they are supposed to be upper-class.

I love class analysis. Posh is packed with class analysis. So why does this script, which premiered in London in 2010, not work for me in this Vancouver production in 2017?

In Laura Wade’s play, a group that calls itself The Riot Club meets in the private dining room of a suburban pub. They are all upper-class students from Oxford University, and their goal for the evening is to get hammered—or chateaued as they call it—and run amok. A tradition of the club is to destroy the rooms they rent and settle the expenses afterwards.

The fictional Riot Club has a real-life counterpart, Oxford’s unofficial but exclusive Bullingdon Club, which also has a tradition of trashing student rooms and dining halls and then paying up on the spot. Tory politicians David Cameron and Boris Johnson are both former members. The play makes it clear that the young men of The Riot Club are elitists enraged by the erosion of their privilege. And, in scenes in which two young Rioters meet with an alumnus who is now a Tory MP, the script argues that institutions, including top-tier universities and their unofficial offshoots, feed reactionary networks that covertly exercise much of the real power in Britain.

So when Posh opened in London during the general election that saw Cameron become prime minister, it came with considerable spin.

Not to let Canada off the hook, but the U.K.’s class distinctions are more in-your-face than Canada’s are, and I suspect that partly explains why Posh doesn’t feel so compelling in a Canadian context. But it’s also because this production fails to fully conjure the original context: most of the actors imagine their characters’ elitist British perspective only vaguely. Kevin Hatch plays Hugo, the club’s sole gay member, for instance, as a kind of toffee-nosed cartoon. The accents are inconsistent. To be clear, the overall level of performance isn’t bad; it’s just not sharp enough to fully vivify the play’s world.

Perhaps more importantly, the play’s political analysis doesn’t jibe with today’s political reality. Posh argues, simplistically, that the young men of The Riot Club can get away with anything because they can pay for the clean-up and buy off anybody they want. But it seems to me that the appeal of the right wing today, in the U.S. and in Europe, is primarily an appeal to nativist—racist—grievance. Money is still part of the argument: “They took our jobs.” And money is still the ultimate point: economic elites want to maximize their profits. But their nativist rhetoric appeals to the perceived loss of privilege in the working class every bit as much as it appeals to the perceived loss of privilege in the upper class.

That’s why, for me, the lens that Posh provides right here and now is wonky. There are also problems with the plot: its resolution is full of holes.

All of that said, some performers fare well. David Z. Cohen, who plays Dimitri, a Greek member who’s never allowed to forget that he is a “foreigner”, is suavely understated and grounded in the role. As a wild boy named Toby, Cole Howard enjoys a nice comic run in which his character gets so drunk that he starts to ramble. And Caroline Doyle impresses as Charlie, a sex worker who’s hired but, much to the astonishment of the club members, balks when they demand that she give them all blowjobs under the table. Doyle gives Charlie such an active internal life—you can see it in the character’s awareness of danger, and in her wry humour—that she made me believe in Charlie’s life off-stage.

And that’s interesting: for all of the cultural shifts that we’re experiencing, the analysis of power as it applies to gender remains readily comprehensible.

 

POSH By Laura Wade. Directed by Allyson Fournier. Presented by Fighting Chance Productions at the PAL Theatre on Wednesday, September 20. Continues until September 29.

Get your tickets here.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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