You may or may not know that Number One Son is an actor – and this week-end we travelled up to Salisbury where he was appearing in Posh to see him. Obviously, I am not in a position to give a proper review of the play – but I did think I’d share with you my thoughts and impressions of the production.
An elite Oxford dining society has hired a gastro pub for their termly dinner with the sole aim of getting totally ‘chateaued’. As the evening progresses and the booze flows, tempers fray and things get disastrously out of hand. Darkly comic and disgracefully entertaining, Posh isn’t just one big party: the boys are planning a revolution. Laura Wade’s critically acclaimed play is inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club, which counts the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London among its former members. As we approach the 2015 General Election, this razor-sharp play portrays what Boris Johnson himself described as superhuman arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. Welcome to the Riot Club.
Glowing maternal pride aside, what first struck me was just what a very high standard of acting and ensemble playing is achieved. There is all sorts of business going on, with rowdy drunken games, eating and drinking and other darker activities during the meal – plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And most of the time there are ten plus actors onstage, with the dialogue constantly firing between them. More opportunities for actors to lose their place, tread on each others’ lines and generally mess up. None of which happened. Neither is there a single weak link – everyone on the stage could be easily heard at all times and conveyed their parts with conviction and skill.
I knew the dialogue was funny, I was expecting a fair amount of mayhem – what I hadn’t expected, was to come away with such a prickling awareness that the class warfare which has hampered this country for generations is alive and thriving. As one of the Boomers growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when we were all telling ourselves that class boundaries were closing up and by the next century would be a thing of the past, I find it profoundly depressing.
Whatever the reasons – I’ve all sorts of STRONG opinions as to the various causes – the simmering anger against ‘the other lot’ is exemplified by the shocking climax in the play, and the chilling closing scene. And when we met up after the show, Robbie was telling me that as the first half came to an end when they were in Nottingham, a woman stood up, shouting, “Yeah – we hate you, too!” and regularly people have walked out of the show. In this election year, however, it behoves someone to shed some light on one of the long-running faultlines in British society, an undertaking that the cast of Posh delivers with energy and skill.
The following day before heading home, we visited Salisbury Cathedral. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was nine – what immediately struck me was the sheer size of the building, compared to Chichester and Arundel cathedrals. And as we went around with one of the wonderful guides and were shown a succession of tombs and artefacts, the most impressive being Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta, I was again struck by just how much religious and political power has rested in the building since its consecration in 1258. So while some of the statues and images were a bit knocked about during the Civil War, the cathedral was sufficiently wealthy and powerful to protect its treasures – it’s no accident that the Salisbury cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta is the best preserved. Unlike Lincoln, for example, they were never in the position of having to exhibit it around the country to raise funds. Power – who has it, and who wants it – is a theme I constantly return to in my own writing.
However, the real reward this week-end was appreciating the sheer quality of Posh and feeling very proud of Robbie’s part in it.