Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Posh, toffs and the class system

Almost everyone goes to university these days. We all eat hummus and have sun tans. We are a nation of homeowners. We live in a meritocracy. If you get on your bike, you can make it. Even young royalty wear baseball caps and mimic street patois. We’re all middle class and if we’re not, then we’re chavs, members of a Yahoo, pariah underclass. Class is a thing of the past - it’s a glass of Chardonnay in front of Downtown Abbey on a Sunday night, rather than a recognisable reality. But is this, in fact, correct? Has class become the thing that dare not speak its name?

Laura Wade’s play, Posh, suggests that class – far from being extinct - has been forced to go underground or has acquired a politically correct face. The upper class still believe that they are entitled (by birth) to positions of economic and social superiority. They continue to operate through intricate networks of public schools, universities and dining clubs. The masonic rituals of privilege and preferment protect the upper class from the worries and struggles of the majority.

A private room in a gastro pub in the back end of the Oxfordshire countryside is the setting for Wade’s play. Here, the Riot Club, a gang of nine young toffs and their feckless president, gather for a meal. These people hold one thing in common: they have rich, old money parents and they believe that this economic fact gives them the liberty to trash each other and their surroundings in a night of destructive debauchery and violence. The members of The Riot Club are bound together by an allegiance to their birthright superiority and their barely-concealed contempt of the middle classes who by sheer force of numbers have eroded their aristocratic power base.

As the Riot Club members get bladdered on fine wines, their supposed good-breeding and patrician manners disappear and we are exposed to their venal, bigoted and finally, violent natures. The most vituperative Riot Club member, Alistair Ryle, rails against the levelling forces at work in contemporary Britain. Small businessmen, like the pub landlord “thinks he can have anything if he works hard enough...thinks his daughter’s getting a useful education at Crapsville College...thinking they’re cultured cause they read a big newspaper and eat asparagus and pretend not to be racist...I am sick to f***ing death of poor people.”

Posh is savagely funny, thought provoking and entertaining. Wade’s characters are so deftly drawn that one never feels she is indulging in crude agitprop or cheap pops at Lord Snootys. Although they may be dressed in flashy waistcoats, her characters and their ugly attitudes are disturbingly recognizable. Their preoccupation with wealth, sex and status is not so different to the characters in The Only Way is Essex. The political difference, Wade contends, is that her characters have power and influence and look like David Cameron. Discuss.

Posh by Laura Wade is on at the Duke of York's theatre, London

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Raid: the cult film of 2012

All the familiar motifs of the gangland thriller are apparent in The Raid: bent cops, badass thugs, a sadistic gangland boss, a sleazy urban background (in this case Jakarta in Indonesia) and a good, handsome cop who is going to do some serious kickboxing damage. The Welsh director, Gareth Evans, marries Indonesian pencack silat martial arts with Western genre conventions, referencing most obviously John Carpenter’s influential movie, Assault on Precinct 13. The Raid could have been a culturally muddled, clich├ęd mess. Instead it is a breathless, butt-kicking, pulse-pounding, skull-smashing two hours thrill ride like no other.

The action takes place in an architecturally brutal, decaying fifteen storey tenement. The top floor is occupied by a megalomaniac gangland boss, Tama, with the lower floors run by his thuggish minions. This block of flats is not a good advertisement for the utopian visions of high-rised, communal living.

A swat team, largely made up of rookie, inexperienced cops, arrives to clear the building floor by floor. When Tama gets wind of their presence, he orders a lockdown, sending in his own heavies and the building’s tenants to fight off this “infestation”. But it becomes clear that corrupt police and venal politicians also have a vested interest in maintaining these gangs. “We don’t kill cops, we buy them,” Tama points out.

At this point, the story takes flight into a kick ass orgy but one that is executed with real imagination and sly wit. The action is relentless - one bone-crunching set piece hurtling into the next, every sweaty scene building into fresh crescendos of carnage. The audience is grabbed by the lapels and thrown around by each increasingly outrageous fight scene. Evans’ kinetic editing and edgy, unpredictable camera work masterfully controls the material so that it does not slip into slapstick mayhem or macho camp. Every scene, every death blow is perfectly choreographed for a cathartic release and adrenalin rush. The audience audibly winces and groans with every decapitation and body blow. In Evans’ hands, the logarithms of violence become attitudes of elegance.

No one will remember The Raid for the character development or narrative subtleties or fizzing dialogue. They won’t remember The Raid for these things because they don’t exist. The Raid is not a sophisticated film which prevents it from being a great film. But what you will remember this film for are set pieces of such physical dynamism and visceral artistry that you are left breathless. The Raid is a lean, mean, muscular fighting machine without an ounce of visual fat.

The Raid is quickly turning into a word of mouth cult film. It will be interesting to see if Gareth Evans can now move from the periphery of film making and establish a more mainstream position without losing those qualities that make The Raid such vivid and riveting entertainment. If he does, then the action movie has a future.