first night

Posh

Charlie Oulton enters the world of Durham's social elite.

Having completed a run on the West End this summer to great acclaim, I was excited to see how an amateur production would fare in living up to the reputation Posh has amassed.  My expectation for the antics of the Riot Club was an evening of wild decadence and offensively right-wing entitlement.  The actors - on the whole - have done an extraordinarily good job of getting into the spirit of Posh, but it was apparent that some attention to detail on behalf of the production team might have been required to fully achieve the dramatic credibility the play deserved.

Needless to say, Laura Wade’s script is fantastic - at times laugh out loud hilarious and yet also sinister, aggressive, and frightening.  It seemed that the strength of the script was, at times, the saving grace of the production – if a line was delivered half-heartedly, the audience responded nonetheless.  But in allowing the actors to run free with scenes during rehearsals, as Maddy Ratcliffe suggests in her director’s note, moments of tension were missed, reactions were lost, and the pace of the (admittedly rapid) script was either swallowed up by the oncoming train of boozed-up hostility, or abruptly stopped by a hesitation to remember upcoming lines.
 
This need for attention to detail was particularly evident in the opening and closing scenes, with Ed Cherrie’s Jeremy barely realised as a character that ought to have instilled real fear into the audience.  Similarly, the ill-fated landlord Chris (Dave Pritchett) seemed to be without motivation or direction whenever he found himself on stage.  Time dedicated to polishing these performances would have made a big difference to the production on the whole.
 
On the other hand, nearly all of the members of the Riot Club stepped into their roles with an ease you would expect of Durham students.  Ben Naunton-Davies’ delivery of an adapted ‘Henry V’ speech was superb, and on the whole his tastefully subtle portrayal of the only openly gay character in the room was an admirable one.  Sam Kennerley’s viciously aggressive presentation of Alastair was one that required his utmost dedication to character, something he demonstrated successfully in his speech that closes the first act.  It was only once or twice that Kennerley noticeably lost focus throughout the evening, and hopefully this could be put down to first night nerves rather than laziness.
 
Playing one of the quieter characters, Joe Burke did an excellent job of making George a role that was at once identifiable and entertaining, proving once again this term his reliability as an actor.  And it was clear from the moment James entered the room that Charlie Warner simply knew who his character was.  The insincere good manners of the privileged, the blind panic of finding himself in trouble, and his careless attitude to even the handling of money all pointed to the fact that Warner was well within his comfort zone in this role.  It seems that an Etonian education really does pay off when getting into characters such as these.
 
Credit too should be given to Daisy Cummins and Caitlin McEwan for managing to make the only two female characters memorable and effective.  Cummins showed respectable versatility in her transformation from professional escort to an offended victim of the Club’s abuse, while McEwan brought a level of realism in her performance that was, perhaps, missing elsewhere.  Certainly this was true of certain male cast members, who often seemed to allow themselves to become parodies of the type of people they were playing.  Edward Hauschild’s Guy was particularly shambolic in his maintenance of character – at once calculating and ambitious, and then suddenly camp and idiotic.  It was hard to tell with his performance, admittedly, whether or not more directorial attention would have been realistically advantageous.
 
These discrepancies in the quality of individual acting made watching the ensemble as a whole uncomfortable at times.  Accents, in particular, stood out, with some speaking as if they could be on ‘Made In Chelsea’ and others from ‘Downton Abbey’ – it’s not often you have to point out the variations on a ‘posh’ accent. As previously stated, attention to everything that was happening on stage, rather than just the overall scene direction, may have helped.
 
The venue of the Senate Suite was a fantastic choice.  In the lush interiors of Durham Castle it was not hard for the audience to be swept up in the mood of opulence and entitlement on which Posh runs.  Even the size of the space worked well, with the stench of the roasted meat drifting back and further drawing you into the atmosphere of the evening.  A more appropriate setting couldn’t have been suggested.
 
While this production of Posh started off with some difficulty, and certain actors clearly required more time in rehearsal, I was not disappointed by the play as a whole.  The cast were clearly enjoying themselves, and the audience responded to this energy without hesitation.  With the actors even personalising their dinner suits with their own outrageous variations, it is clear that Durham University is an incredibly appropriate place to stage this play.  Although not the most critically assured production, when considering the dramatic quality Durham Student Theatre has been churning out this term, you won’t be able to stop yourself enjoying Posh.
 
Charlie Oulton
 
 
 

26 November 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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