In a week where leaders of one of the world’s biggest banks have been forced to resign, a play about scapegoating individuals to salvage the reputation of the group seems particularly timely. Indeed, while playwright Laura Wade’s Riot Club may be a spin on the heady days of Bullingdon, the debauched characters and religiously upheld belief that money makes the world go round still retain cultural relevance two years after its debut.
The Conservative party, if not the entire right wing of Britain, are clear targets for attack in POSH: here a microcosmic world in which wreaking havoc and female subjugation are not only encouraged, but enforced. Having undergone something of a rewrite since the original, the play seeks to make an example of the Bullingdon Club and those now at the helm of this country, namely David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, all of whom were members of the elitist institution. Art imitates life as Alistair Ryle (Leo Bill)’s abhorrent drunken antics secure him a place on the parliamentary ladder.
POSH is certainly a show of two halves, and the joviality and frequent bursts of a cappella in the first undeniably lull the audience into a false sense of security. But towards the interval, it appears all is not well as Ryle lambasts the lower classes with unfettered vitriol, apparently sickened by their sense of entitlement. By the time the curtain goes down, no one is laughing anymore.
The second act continues much in this same fashion: gone are the jokes and the japes, and in their place an extended tirade against the social groups who steal a pair of trainers and label the act a form of protest. ‘Dr Dolittle could talk to animals, that didn’t mean he wanted to be mates with them,’ they whine, attempting to rationalise their contempt for those of lesser lineage. Things go too far, however, when their anger incites them to beat the restaurant’s proprietor to death after he returns to the dining room to find it has been defaced. For the good of the club, and for the good of each other, allegedly, one must take the fall for the Riot Club and take sole responsibility. It is pertinent that club president James Leyton-Masters laughs, ‘this isn’t a democracy’ in the first half, and yet when it comes to saving their skins at the expense of a ‘friend’, the majority rules.
What can at first be laughed off as the idiosyncrasies of Tory posh boys quickly becomes a contemptible satire of those currently in power, and how corrupt beginnings can only lead to similar ends. Wade’s Riot Club go to show that it’s a rich man’s world, and anyone who begs to differ is expendable.