Laura Wade: Queen of theatre's brat pack
As Posh makes its West End debut, Laura Wade tells Alison King why her play about public school boys behaving badly is more relevant than ever
Tuesday 22 May 2012
You might not expect the playwright of the incendiary and savage Posh, to look like the elfin 34-year old, Laura Wade. With her long blonde hair, bright eyes and gentle laugh, Wade's amiable demeanour doesn't reflect any of the darkness that lurks at the centre of her most famous play. A self-confessed theatre geek, she is constantly watching plays that are not of her own creation. The only thing that tears her away from the theatre is her very English hobby of bird-watching. In all, not what you would expect from a angry young writer at the Royal Court.
When we meet in a London café and begin talking about Posh which opens in the West End this week, I see flashes of her incisive intellect and sharp wit that is the stuff that cuts right through the play.
Opening at the Royal Court in 2010, Posh came to the stage at the right time. New Labour was on its way out, the country was on the brink of a general election and a coalition government was on its way in. The play's subject: an all-male Oxbridge dining society whose privileged members seek a future in politics, sounded all too familiar. Wade claims, however, that the similarities between the infamous club of which David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson were members and the club in the play are mere coincidence: "It's not the Bullingdon Club. It was more fun to invent this paradigm instead of a facsimile." The play's first run was at a time when the political power shifts, instabilities in leadership and the forming of alliances was a drama within itself. Wade sees the national uncertainty as a possible reason for the play's initial success: "People could identify with what was going on in the news and around them: that unpredictability is there in the script and It was more of a happy coincidence that as time went on, it seemed to become more relevant."
Two years on and the success of Posh has allowed the playwright to revisit the script in time for its move to the West End. "A lot has changed in two years," says Wade. "I just couldn't present the same play that opened at the Royal Court in 2010. Its relevance had diminished and it didn't quite fit with what was now going on in the world in 2012, some things had to be re-written."
She is now in the process of writing a film of Posh, the adaptation from stage to screen proving to be a whole new arena: "The film is a thing entirely of its own really and I'm approaching it in a completely different way to the play. The thing about this story is that I don't think the issues of class, wealth and privilege are going to go anywhere fast."
The original version of the play presents the characters as the Bright Young Things of Britain's future, living with a surly hatred under New Labour rule and rallying against an institution unsympathetic to them. Wade felt that an update of the play with the times was important to the West End run.
"The underlying circumstances of the world have changed since 2010 and that was always the starting point with the world of the play. The characters are now under a Tory-led coalition but now there is sense that they are still working against the legacy of the previous government. They feel that their ability to further their own agenda is stymied by having to deal with the financial crises, even though their chaps are in power." Other topical changes came too in the form of Dimitri, the Greek character at the Riot Club's dinner: "We just couldn't have a Greek character in that group without making references to the Greek economic crisis."
Though Wade is wary when we start talking politics, she admits, "I think it is a political play. Of course, it is political, I don't want to sound disingenuous. I think the distinction is that I meant the play to be political but not about politics. It has things to say about class and culture as well and asks questions, not only about why these characters think they are in power but why the rest of us are so keen to put them there. There's certainly a two-way thing to it and it is not just within the play."
A member of the Royal Court Theatre's Young Writers' programme in her twenties, Wade wrote two plays dealing with death, Breathing Corpses and Colder Than Here, which both opened at the Royal Court in 2005 to critical acclaim. "I think I've got more confident since then," says Wade. "What I'm enjoying in my career now is being given the opportunity to write for a large cast, a big stage and the excitement of having the theatrical gesture that's possible with that opportunity."
Posh centres on one night of debauchery at an old country pub where the young members of the Riot Club are hell-bent on getting trashed and trashing their surroundings. It's something that the events of the real world caught up with in 2011 when the summer riots saw disaffected youths trash their local high streets and later, be held accountable for their actions. The play lays open questions of class and accountability: "I think that the characters believe themselves to be rich enough to do whatever they want because they can afford to pay their way out of it afterwards, the purpose of the play is to question whether that is right or fair or good. It does provocatively suggest that those networks exist in the world and I suppose the recent news front pages have, to some extent, spelled that out."
Wade doesn't see herself as posh, with a degree from Bristol University, her time on the Young Writers' programme and her humble beginnings in theatre, she had to do her research: "When Lyndsey Turner [the director] and I were researching for the play and asking everyone about these secret elite clubs, it was done completely from an outsider perspective. We were on the fringes looking into this odd little universe that is Oxford.
I start writing from a point of curiosity: the way we interact with each other and the ways in which we are all attempting to be happy with the life that has been allotted to us."
'Posh', Duke of York's Theatre, London WC2 (royalcourttheatre.com) to 4 August
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