"And these people think we're twats? Are we going to just sit here and take it..."
, a new black comedy by Laura Wade at the Royal Court, follows a group of young toffs, calling themselves the Riot Club, as they meet up to get thoroughly drunk or “chateaued” and trash the private dining room of the Oxfordshire gastropub where they are spending the evening. It is apparently inspired by Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club which has given us such scions of society as David Cameron and Boris Johnson though I can’t see either of them making the trip to see this as it does rather skewer their antics (that said, the vast majority of the audience had a much closer affinity to the title than I would have imagined, and on cheap Monday prices too, shame on them!)
The writing is beautifully delicious in places, I loved the quip about reading languages in Newcastle (you’d have to, up there!), the scene with the prostitute with a mind of her own is wonderfully awkward and so much of the dialogue has clearly been finely crafted, reflecting the intelligence, no matter how odious they get, of many of these chaps. Wade also captures the righteous indignation of those who feel their birthrights have been slowly eroded but yet insist on the maintenance of the system of privileges that accompanies membership of the upper classes.
Whilst having ten members of the club lends Posh the necessary sense of exclusivity in this elitist group, it does mean there are too just many characters to develop distinct personalities for them all, adding in four supporting characters further restricts the available time and so the less-featured members tend to blur into an unidentifiable mass. That said, there were no weak performances throughout the ensemble and those allowed to shine did so with aplomb: Harry Hadden-Paton was handsomely affable, Henry Lloyd Hughes’ Greek heir desperate to fit in as English and Leo Bill turning chillingly vicious in his defence of his ‘entitlement’. Charlotte Lucas and Fiona Button both deserve mentions for managing to work wonders with very little material in their cameos.
The private dining room set looks handsome and the action is nicely punctuated with some acapella renditions of pop songs which were random to say the least but Lloyd-Hughes’ take on Dance Wiv Me and David Dawson’s I Write Sins Not Tragedies were both brilliantly done.
But despite being entertained by the performances and the production, I left feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the play itself. Wade’s world that she has created here is far too black and white, it is just far too easy to paint all rich young men as vainglorious, self-interested toffs and likewise, not all working/middle class people are good honest salt-of-the-earth types. In not allowing the diversity that exists even within social strata, she has sadly minimised the import of what she is saying and by further wrapping events up in the insinuation that all is governed by the old boys’ network, it loses any sense of insight or satire, sitting instead as (albeit very funny) melodrama.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Playtext cost: £3
Labels: Charlotte Lucas, Daniel Ryan, David Dawson, Fiona Button, Harry Hadden-Paton, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, James Norton, Jolyon Coy, Joshua McGuire, Laura Wade, Leo Bill, Richard Goulding, Tom Mison