Saturday, 8 May 2010


5/5/10, Royal Court

What Alan Bennett's History Boys might have become if they'd gone to Eton, Harrow and Winchester instead of a Yorkshire grammar school. A thinly-disguised portrait of the Bullingdon Club timed to coincide with the General Election.

Top notch ensemble performances, clever direction by Lyndsey Turner (the blocking alone a triumph, what with ten or more actors on the tiny Court stage, much of the time sitting around a dining table), one or two good jokes... but awful people, made utterly obnoxious by the sense of entitlement that comes with wealth (in the case of the Greek Dimitri) or a title or a sentimental attachment to Things as They Were. And that actually made it rather boring to watch.

This was a club in which talk of politics was supposedly banned but which was political to its core, if total disregard for the interests and feelings of others constitutes a political position. They meet to get "chateaued" in some country pub, play silly games, argue, boast (they're barely out of adolescence) and then it all turns nasty when one of them insists on kissing the landlord's daughter against her will, her father protests at what they've done to his pub (trashed it) and to his daughter and a minor sexual assault turns into a serious physical assault which leaves him unconscious.

There's then an unconvincing coda in which a suave MP gets the one who's agreed to take/been lumbered with the rap (he did throw the first punch, played by Leo Bill) positioned for a career in politics. The actor playing the young man was a dead ringer for Tim Gardam.

There were some nice touches in the script (by Laura Wade). At one point they lament the decline of the country house -- mummy and daddy forced into two rooms by the beastly National Trust, thousands of oikish visitors trampling the carpets -- and the gay one goes into a riff about how dreadful it is and one of them suddenly twigs from the way he talks that he must actually go to these places as a paying visitor. The one who eventually throws the punch has a nice turn when he reads out a letter he's found in the chairman's bag, a letter which begins ("Why I want to work for Deutsche Bank"): this to a roomful of people who insist they don't apply for jobs, the jobs come to them. And the one who throws the punch also closes the first act with a spectacular spittle-flecked rant about privilege and entitlement and the little people and how sick he is of poor people which was hard to follow but had a certain bravura quality.

There were a few good jokes, but an alarming number of people in the (very posh) audience seemed to be laughing like drains with rather than at the club's antics.

Clever production included occasional a capella songs to break the action up and mark the passage of time. But it was one of those plays where seeing it didn't really add much to what you got from reading the reviews. The experience of watching it gave little pleasure; and frankly it was hard to care tuppence about these horrible people and the way the related to one another.

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