With perfect timing, a new play debunks the idea that the Conservative elite no longer think they were born to ruleby Michael Coveney / April 26, 2010 / Leave a comment
Posh: the class war is not dead, but festering
In the month of the general election, Laura Wade’s new drama Posh will be dogging the political debate like the hound of the Baskervilles, or at least the hound in the theatre stalls. The play is at the Royal Court in London until 22nd May. It will be an unwelcome reminder for top-ranking Tories David Cameron and George Osborne (not to mention Boris Johnson), of their membership of the exclusive Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, where drinking till you fell over and trashing the place was the minimum requirement—as well as possessing lots of crisp notes to offset the damage.
Wade’s play digs a bit deeper, though. Posh mostly takes place in the private room of a country pub, where ten members of the Riot Club have assembled for dinner. One of them is the Cameron-like character of Alistair Ryle, who “takes one for the team” by shouldering the blame for an appalling ruction that occurs. Ryle, however, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s a Trojan horse in a concerted push towards pre-Thatcherite reactionary Conservatism, with all the nasty bits put back in.
Wade, aged 32, grew up in Sheffield. She’s smart and talented, but not posh. She took a drama degree at Bristol University and graduated through the ranks of the Royal Court’s young writers’ programme. Her partner is the actor Sam West, a noted bird-watcher who has converted her to his hobby.
Posh assumes the class war is not dead but festering, boosted by the phoniness of new Labour, the distant memory of the greed-is-good individualism at the root of our recent financial crisis, and the John Major waffle about “a classless society.” Wade, along with her characters, refuses to be appeased by Cameron’s insistence on his “country boy” background: his talk of catching fish with his grandfather and shooting rabbits with his “dad,” while developing a compassionate social conscience.
A Channel 4 documentary last autumn, When Boris Met Dave, implied that leopards do not change their spots. The Bullingdon is more than a place for young bloods to let off steam. It is a statement of hedonistic, self-regarding class brutality. Founded over 200 years ago and fictionalised in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall as the Bollinger Club, the Bullingdon is still very much in business. Posh appears to have been inspired by a riot in…