The first thing we see in this touring production of Laura Wade’s Posh is one of its characters, a Tory politician, reading the The Telegraph with a front page dominated by a giant photograph of Boris Johnson.
First seen in 2010, Posh has always been a political satire, but the timing of this revival – opening in Oxford in the same week that the new prime minister made his parliamentary debut – makes it seem more relevant than ever.
For most of the play we are in the company of 10 members of The Riot Club, an elite Oxford dining society which has hired a private room at a local country gastropub for a night of drunken debauchery.
Wade has always pointed out that her story is pure fiction – inspired by Oxford University’s real-life Bullingdon Club (past members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson) – and the show’s programme helpfully decodes some of the Riot Club lingo such as “beasting” (public pre-dinner punishment), “chateaued” (being absolutely drunk beyond belief) and “trashmeister” (you can probably guess that one).
Posh is a bitingly funny portrait of an entitled class who believe that money will buy them out of any sticky situation. The laughs however become more nervous as the story enters its darker final act. It isn’t called the Riot Club for nothing.
Tyger Drew-Honey (from TV sitcom Outnumbered) makes an impressive stage debut as Alistair Ryle, who delivers a memorable rallying speech to his fellow toffs about their superiority over the poorer classes.
There are excellent performances throughout, particularly from Jack Whittle as dashing Harry Villiers, Matthew Entwistle as Toby Maitland (a student who gets a beasting for having brought the club into disrepute) and Adam Mirsky as Guy Bellingfield, who attempts to impress his fellow students by arranging a “ten bird roast”.
The play’s two female characters are strongly played by Isobel Laidler, as the landlord’s waitress daughter Rachel, and Ellie Nunn as prostitute Charlie. Both give short shrift to the boys’ vile behaviour. I also admired Peter McNeil O’Connor’s portrayal of hapless landlord Chris.
As part of his set design, Will Coombes cleverly suspends a number of gilded portraits in mid-air over the pub dining room, lending it the air of a stately home, while director Lucy Hughes does a great job choreographing the climactic trashing scene.
I last saw Posh in the West End in 2012, when Laura Wade told me how she’d updated it from its original version to reflect the changing politics of the time.
Like the vintage red wines that the Riot Club members quaff in extremis, this already impressive play has aged beautifully.
Posh began at Oxford Playhouse, and is now on a UK tour visiting Cambridge, Bath, Kingston, and Mold.