Theresa May went to Oxford, but unlike Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Johnson, she could never have been invited to become a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club, to which Laura Wade’s play
A good introduction, but it will not satisfy those more fully acquainted with the work.
Times have moved on and either the plot of this play has become too well known or we’ve become so accustomed to what Boris Johnson called ‘superhuman arrogance, toffishness and twittishness’ among the privileged social elite that it no longer shocks or surprises in the manner of its 2010 premiere.
With the exception of the brief opening and closing scenes in the Palace of Westminster the action takes place within a private room at the Bull’s Head. Here, the arrogant, money-flaunting members of the exclusive Riot Club gather for dinner. Following a previous incident when arrests and headlines had been made, the event had fallen into abeyance. On this night the tradition is to be to reinstated with all its rites and ceremonies observed in grand style.
Despite careful delegation of duties to ensure the success of the evening, not all goes to plan. The demise begins with a series of shortcomings on the part of the pub’s management. A female escort hired for the event then fails to undertake what the boys believe they have paid for. Unaccustomed to not having their own way, the conversation becomes increasingly agitated as the case is made for putting these people back in their place and teaching them a lesson, while reasserting their own to right to rule over them: something for which they should be grateful. The exchanges lead to acts of abuse and violence and the ultimate ritual being observed. The room is turned into a scene of devastation as its furnishings are wrecked in a drunken frenzy. Their joy is then to simply hand over the cash to pay for all the damage. Why? Because they can.
The play has been heavily cut for this Festival Fringe production and it suffers accordingly. Roles are diminished and while characters emerge and are shaped, they never seem to be fully extended. The editing gives the boy’s rage less time to build up and what some might regard as the pivotal apparition of Lord Ryott is completely omitted. It is his exhortation to take back their country that raises passions to a new level and the ultimate act of destruction.
There are niggling points too. After the wine is tasted and approved, the bottles that appear on the table are not all the same and what comes out is a pale imitation of the real thing. The wine glasses themselves look unsophisticated and the door that will not stay shut just has to be fixed. More seriously there is a delivery issue. The play’s description refers to the boy’s ‘cut-glass vowels’, which are present in abundance. It is the consonants that are often missing. In an attempt to sound ultra posh, words are lost and far too many ends of sentences are dropped, losing punchlines. This situation is exacerbated by the high level of babble around the table while the script is being delivered.
In parts, the antics and chatter are both fun and repellant. Overall, however, this is a rather banal production that lacks flair in both staging and much of the acting. It might be enjoyable for first-timers, although it’s not a good introduction, but it will not satisfy those more fully acquainted with the work.