Emma-Louise Howell analyses the impact of Fourth Wall Theatre’s Posh.
Laura Wade’s Posh has been a Durham favourite since its appearance in 2010. But, left in the wrong hands, Posh can be a dangerous choice. Not only does it necessitate cooking a three-course meal (including a ten bird roast) but it is difficult to turn a page in Wade’s script without stumbling on something distasteful, uncomfortable and stereotypical. While Fourth Wall’s production was not without its flaws, directors Alice Clarke and Hetty Hodgson avoided falling too far into the shallow stereotypes and were able to unpick the deeper and more important meanings of the texts to provide an entertaining evening of theatre.
Setting the production in the Debating Chamber was a clever and fitting choice which contributed greatly to the themes of the production. However, using such an unconventional space was not without its limits. While I enjoyed the decision to seat the audience in thrust, which gave the impression of us being seated around the dinner table, this caused considerable challenges with sightlines. Such intimate staging requires thorough blocking and, sadly, entire scenes could be missed due to one actor standing directly in front of the audience. Moreover, there were obvious limits to the technical capacity of the venue and this proved particularly problematic during the scene changes. As blackouts were virtually impossible given the large windows of the Chamber, it seemed an odd choice to dim the lights and direct characters to walk off in neutral and was rather jarring to the otherwise extremely naturalistic production.
However, despite these issues in staging, Clarke and Hodgson must be commended for their handling of what is a play of difficult and contentious themes. The directing duo avoided glamorising the behaviour of the Riot Club by its focus on the reactions of the peripheral characters. Whilst the dinner party is infinitely the centrepiece to the production, Clarke and Hodgson cleverly directed it to be quick-paced and naturalistic with overlapping dialogue, emphasising the blasé and expectant privilege of the Club and, in turn, highlighting the importance of the disruptions from the unwelcome guests. As the entrances from the secondary characters interrupted the traditional manner of the dinner party, the audience were able to note the significance of their roles. From John Broadhead’s humble and genuine portrayal as the landlord Chris, to the deeply disturbed reaction of Mally Capstick’s Rachel, and Sarah Cameron’s strength and defiance as Charlie, the audience caught glimpses of the damaging effects of the Club’s behaviour. Despite their short appearances, their impact on the production was great and underpinned the production’s central criticism of the behaviour of the privileged classes.
In general, the cast are considerably stronger as an ensemble than in their individual performances. In the early scenes of the dinner party, I was somewhat disappointed that a number of the characters lacked depth or any obvious affectation and their contribution to the group dynamic felt slight. This, however, was remedied by the group camaraderie and quick fire dialogue that ensued later in the production which helped to pick up the pace and carry the show along.
That being said, there were some particularly notable performances from the cast that must be praised. Owen Sparkes was exceptional in his portrayal of Hugo; from impeccable comedic timing to a growing disapproval, he offered a much needed grounding to the group. As a perfect condiment to Sparkes’ understated remarks, Jack Firoozan was outstanding as George Balfour. Despite his eccentricities, Firoozan succeeded in the difficult task of unpicking the comedy without becoming a caricature and this was a real delight to watch.
All in all, therefore, Fourth Wall’s production of Posh is strong. Sadly, no, these scenes are not too far removed from the experiences of the Durham demographic, but this raucous spectacle is accompanied by deeply disturbing and moving moments that shows the darker side to white male privilege.
Posh will be playing in the Durham Union Debating Chamber on the 21st June at 1:30 and 7:30pm.
Photographs: Ed Rees