Previewed 16 January 2015, Opened 27 January 2015, Closed 11 April 2015 at the Trafalgar Studio 1 in London
A major revival of Peter Barnes’ comedy The Ruling Class in London starring James McAvoy and directed by Jamie Lloyd.
After the 13th Earl of Gurney passes away his son, Jack, should be in line to be the new 14th Earl - but Jack is a possible paranoid schizophrenic who has a Messiah complex and a ruthless power struggle takes place as his scheming family strives to uphold their reputation and keep Jack from taking up his title as they view him as being singularly unsuited to a life in the upper echelons of elite society.
This is the first West End revival of Peter Barnes' 1968 black comedy that combines a ferocious mix of hilarity and horror whilst mercilessly exposing the foibles of the English nobility. The play was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole who was Oscar nominated for his role.
This stage production stars James McAvoy as 'Jack Gurney', Ron Cook as 'Sir Charles Gurney' and Serena Evans as 'Lady Claire Gurney' along with Rosy Benjamin, Andrew Bloomer, Michael Cronin, Kathryn Drysdale, Oliver Lavery, Paul Leonard, Elliot Levey, Forbes Masson, Joshua McGuire, Anthony O’Donnell and Geoffrey Towers. The production is directed by Jamie Lloyd with choreography by Darren Carnall, designs by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by Jon Clark and music annd sound by Ben and Max Ringham. James McAvoy recent West End stage credits include Jamie Lloyd's revivals of Shakespeare's Macbeth (Trafalgar Studio 2013) and Richard Greenberg's play Three Days of Rain (Apollo Theatre 2009).
When this production opened here at the Trafalgar Studios in January 2015 Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph noted that, "whatever you think of Peter Barnes's riotously funny–peculiar assault on the English upper class and their deranged tendencies you have to chalk McAvoy's performance down as one of the year's must–sees... McAvoy has tremendous, infectious fun as this charismatic holy fool," adding that "the show's bamboozling array of influences achieves the dreamlike logic of a psychedelic trip. Few of Barnes's successors are pushing the boat out with such uninhibited abandon. Few directors have Lloyd's ability to transport us to the upper echelons of theatrical pleasure." Neil Norman in the Daily Express commented that, "with one foot in music hall and the other in agitprop theatre, Peter Barnes takes no prisoners in his portrayal of the privileged classes with aspirations towards politics or the church... McAvoy acquits himself well in the role, negotiating the crashing gear changes with utter confidence in the articulate absurdities of the text... He is ably supported by a cast embracing the stylistic nature of the play... Almost five decades after it was written The Ruling Class is as intoxicating, belligerent, inflammatory and biliously funny as it ever was." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times highlighted how "Peter Barnes's technique was to mix comedy and cruelty as provocatively as he could in an attempt to stir audiences up... In this confusing-by-design, jump-cut age of ours, Barnes may finally have come into his own." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard highlighted that the "immensely charismatic performance by James McAvoy anchors this rare revival of Peter Barnes’s subversive Sixties play... Director Jamie Lloyd captures the hallucinatory spirit of the play and marshals a strong cast." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail thought that it was "mildly interesting in places, distasteful in others, sometimes boring, its attempts at mirth frequently over-strenuous. This production certainly has some strong performances, not least from James Mcavoy as Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney." Michael Billington in the Guardian described how, "even when Peter Barnes overstates his case, as he does by having Jack assume the role of a serial killer, the play is held together by McAvoy’s mesmerising performance... Jamie Lloyd’s production keeps the action flowing smoothly on Soutra Gilmour’s unitary set." Paul Taylor in the Independent said that "James McAvoy delivers a performance of brilliant antic bravura as the Earl with the messiah complex in Jamie Lloyd's full-blast production of Peter Barnes's 1968 black comedy... The cast are uniformly excellent." Dominic Maxwell in the Times wrote that "this is a big show whose excesses are underpinned by knotty ideas about the strange, awful things we can do when we live without love... Subtle? Nope. It's witty, angry, ugly and alive, though. And McAvoy's bravura performance holds it all together... Don't expect an easy evening. Do expect a blast of theatrical energy that ensures this psychedelic oddity makes a strange kind of sense all over again."
"Peter Barnes, who died in 2004, has dropped off the theatrical radar, but this glorious revival of his 1968 tragicomedy excavates a dazzling theatrical imagination... Jamie Lloyd's beautifully judged production is a vital, verbal wonder; he keeps a poised cast (including Ron Cook and Forbes Masson) still, so their words can dance around doing cartwheels... Eyes shining, grin positively vulpine, James McAvoy purrs and enunciates the aristo-lunacy as if picking glass splinters from his teeth; as the earl's jubilation turns to harsh judgment, his blinding white suit becomes immaculate black." The Sunday Times
"Possibly it felt like a breath of fresh dramatic air back in 1968, breaking all rules with its bursts into silly song, dance and drag routines poking fun at upper-class twittishness. Time has not dented our obsession with toffs, but this overwritten play has had its day... As Jack’s madness turns bad, this tasteless country-house comedy about English eccentricity lurches into a gory, gothic, Jack-the-Ripper romp. It’s not boring but, for all James McAvoy’s mania, the story crawls... This feels like a protracted audition for the charismatic, virtuosic, athletic McAvoy to prove, wholly unnecessarily, that he can morph in a blink from crookback Richard III into Hamlet, the fencing star. He can even ride a unicycle. Dazzling, certainly, but not enough to bring dramatic life into this hellish, hallucinatory, hopelessly dated curio." The Mail on Sunday
"James McAvoy gives a virtuosic performance as Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney, a deranged aristocrat who thinks that he is God... Peter Barnes's exuberant play, which, amazingly, has not had a major revival since its 1968 premiere, fizzes with comedy, ideas and dramatic invention. The fine production shows great sensitivity to the play's varied moods, not least the interpolated songs in which Barnes anticipates Dennis Potter. The expert cast includes stand-out performances from Ron Cook as Jack's brutal uncle, Serena Evans as his lubricious aunt, Anthony O'Donnell as his crypto-Trotskyite manservant, and Elliot Levey as his doctor." The Sunday Express
The Ruling Class in London at the Trafalgar Studios previewed from 16 January 2015, opened on 27 January 2015 and closed on 11 April 2015.