Men behaving badly doesn’t begin to describe the 10 assembled members of Oxford’s revived Riot Club, bent on drinking, trashing and asserting their inborn rights as future rulers of the country. Nothing has been spared for this regional premiere of Laura Wade’s cutting and brilliantly observed play, first seen in the election year of 2010 and even more pertinent in 2015.
A co-production with Salisbury Playhouse and from an all-female creative team, it’s outstanding in every respect. Set entirely within the private dining room of a local hostelry, the antics, rituals and pretensions make for hilarity as the brazenly foul-mouthed students down their wine, caper in the absurdity of their yellow stockings and whinge about the yielding of their ancestral homes to the National Trust.
The comedy is delicious, wicked. But it’s always tempered by knowing the inevitable outcome for Chris, the honest and straightforward landlord (Neil Caple) and his daughter, Rachel (Charlotte Brimble), a girl capable of holding her own, and quite outside the men’s experience. When the end comes, it’s even more shocking than could be anticipated. There are flashes of likeability in the finely delineated characters, especially in the only outsider, Dmitri. But their arrogance, class hatred, contempt for women and belief that a fistful of notes can buy anything or anyone, is deeply disturbing.
Startling interludes feature a scarlet-gowned opera singer giving powerful voice to words from the Requiem. It’s highly appropriate as Laurence Kennedy’s chillingly focused Establishment figure, Jeremy, deals democracy and conscience the final blow.
February 17-28, then at Salisbury Playhouse March 12-April 4, PN February 17