Most people by now have seen the picture of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne as young men at Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club.
It has become an iconic image of Whitehall elitism, regularly trotted out to remind senior Conservatives of their association with a famously uncouth band of privileged, drunken Oxbridge students.
Boris, now older and wiser, has since dismissed the Bullingdon as a “shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness”.
And that could possibly be read as a fairly accurate synopsis of Michael Frayn’s Donkeys’ Years.
Jamie Glover (Headingley), Jason Durr (Quine) and Simon Coates (Tate) in rehearsals
Set in a scarcely-veiled Oxbridge-type college, a group of middle-aged men return to their alma mater for a 25th anniversary reunion dinner.
A new Rose Theatre production comes to the High Street venue next month, directed by Lisa Spirling. “There’s lots of conversation about how the people that run this country come from Oxbridge,” says Spirling.
“But you can be as powerful as you like but get them back into a room with their old friends from uni and watch them regress.
Jason Durr appears as Quine in Donkeys' Years
“Donkey’s Years is a traditional farce in the sense of doors opening and closing and what goes wrong.
“It’s also a quite beautiful study of a group of friends going back to uni after 25 years, and how you regress when you come into contact with friends – and enemies – from your 20s.
“I’m interested in the idea of noticing the person you are at 45 isn’t the person you thought you would be.
“In Donkeys' Year’s there’s a character called Snell [Ian Hughes] who nobody can remember. He has a great line where he says: “I wasn’t old enough to be young, but I’m ready now.” It will be a triumphant return to the Rose for Spirling, who directed the box-office success Here, another Frayn play, in 2012.
Keith Barron, who plays Birkett, in rehearsal
In their own ways, both Here and Donkeys’ Years explore themes of the self, says Spirling.
“For me Here was a love story about moving in together and what it is to be a single person becoming an attached person. What part of yourself do you give up to make the relationship work?
“It’s a theme that carries on in Donkeys’ Years - it’s that idea of what advice would you give your 20-year-old self if you had the chance? “For me Fray’s writing is incredibly cerebral, the intelligence of his writing is extraordinary.”
Donkeys’ Years, Rose Theatre, High Street, Kingston; Thursday, February 6 to Saturday, February 22; Tickets £5 to £28. Visit rosetheatrekingston.org or call 08444 821556.