Laura Wade’s new drama, with its vivid images of toffs at play, is certainly timely. In the run-up to the general election, it comes across as a show with a megaphone message – don’t vote Tory. But is her account of rich young men behaving badly, which is broadly based on the antics of the exclusive all-male Bullingdon Club, any good?
Yes, it is. As they gather for one of their blowouts, the ten Oxford undergraduate members of Wade’s Riot Club aim to get plastered and smash up the rural pub where the event takes place. From the start, however, things begin to go wrong and, by the end of the evening, a terrible crime has taken place.
Wade expertly pins down the attitudes of the privileged, and their mix of venomous contempt for modern life with a nostalgia for the past glories of the aristocracy. Their rage at social change is palpable, and so is the fact that these young bloods have never left the playground. Yet they aspire to be Britain’s ruling class.
Lyndsey Turner’s excellent production, on Anthony Ward’s colourful and claustrophobic set, fields a cast of 14, with Leo Bill particularly impressive as the impassioned Alistair and Joshua McGuire equally strong as the usurping Guy. David Dawson is enjoyable as the poetic Hugo and so is Daniel Ryan as the level-headed landlord.
Equally memorable are Henry Lloyd-Hughes as Dimitri and Simon Shepherd as a Tory MP whose presence underlines the politics of the play. And there is good work from Richard Goulding, Jolyon Coy, Kit Harington, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Norton and Tom Mison. With its excellent music, thanks to James Fortune, and sharply-drawn climaxes, this is a satirical, humorous and finally chilling view of the upper classes – and a really fine metaphor for our times.