Royal Court Theatre, London SW1
Opened 15 April, 2010

Seldom can a show's opening night have been so topical in so many ways. The fictitious Riot Club in Laura Wade's play is loosely inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, which counts both Conservative leader David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne among its former members, so a press performance on the night of the televised party leaders' debate seemed fortuitous. Then one of the ten young toffs whose bibulous dinner is portrayed announces that they're going on somewhere afterwards. To Reykjavik, in fact. "We're going tonight?" asks another. Er, not on the night when the Icelandic volcano cloud halts all flights to and from Britain. Rather less fortuitous, that one.
The Eyjafjallajökull eruption seems to be one of the few things these young bloods do not instinctively believe they can bend to their will. Wade's play is not simply, if at all, a broadside in the class war. What is under the microscope here is not patrician privilege in itself (although one of the meal's ritual toasts can only be delivered by someone with an aristocratic title), but the sense of entitlement which informs it. The blithe assurance with which they set out to get bladdered and trash a restaurant's private dining room is fundamentally no different from the bravado of a bling-laden posse pouring Dom Perignon on to the floor of a nightclub (the play is punctuated by bizarre a capella renditions of RnB numbers) or a petty benefit fraudster… and, indeed, these nobs share some of the same suppressed insecurities. It is significant that their most withering contempt is directed not towards the proles but towards the middle classes whose aspirations and sheer numbers have wrested so much power away from them.
Director Lyndsey Turner has crafted a fine ensemble production, which does its best to keep a lid on broad comedic playing for fear of attenuating the play's power to an audience some of whom may see it less as satire or indictment than nostalgia. Leo Bill gradually emerges as the most dangerous of the Rioters in several ways, with Fiona Button and Charlotte Lucas each shaping up as more than the token females they might at first appear. The violent climax and the Machiavellian coda are both predictable, but neither falls flat. Is this a play whose time has once again come?  Check back next month.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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