The Ruling Class

Comedy by Peter Barnes. 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.

1969: West End London Premiere with Derek Godfrey

2015: 1st West End London Revival with James McAvoy

Peter Barnes' 1968 black comedy combines a ferocious mix of hilarity and horror whilst mercilessly exposing the foibles of the English nobility. The play had it's Premiere at the Nottingham Playhouse on 6 November 1968, before transferring to London's West End the following year. In 1972 the play was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole who was Oscar nominated for 'Best Actor' for his role as 'Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney'.


1969: West End London Premiere with Derek Godfrey

Previewed 22 February 1969, Opened 26 February 1969, Closed 10 May 1969 at the Piccadilly Theatre

The cast featured Derek Godfrey as '14th Earl of Gurney', David Dodimead as 'Sir Charles Gurney', Irene Hamilton as 'Lady Claire Gurney', Dudley Jones as 'Daniel Tucker', David Neal as 'Dr Paul Herder', Ken Hutchison as 'McKyle', Jonathan Cecil as 'Dinsdale Gurney', Vivienne Martin as 'Grace Shelley', Ronald Magill as 'Bishop Bernie Lampton', Laurence Harrington as 'Kelso Truscott Q.C.', Peter Whitbread as '13th Earl of Gurney'/'Detective Inspector Brockett', Robert Robertson as 'Detective Sergeant Fraser', Ann Heffernan as 'Mrs Treadwell', Brown Derby as 'Matthew Peake', Elizabeth Tyrrell as 'Mrs Piggot-Jones', with Brown Derby, C. Denier Warren, Terence Ratcliffe, Timothy Welsh, and Vicky Clayton.

Directed by Stuart Burge, with choreography by Eleanor Fazan, designed by John Napier, and lighting by Robert Ornbo.

This production transferred to London's West End following a run at the Nottingham Playhouse - previewed from 5 November 1968, opened on 6 November 1968, and closed on 19 December 1968 (in repertory) - with a cast that featured Derek Godfrey as '14th Earl of Gurney', David Dodimead as 'Sir Charles Gurney', Moira Redmond as 'Lady Claire Gurney', Dudley Jones as 'Daniel Tucker', David Neal as 'Dr Paul Herder', Ken Hutchison as 'McKyle', Peter Eyre as 'Dinsdale Gurney', Vivienne Martin as 'Grace Shelley', Ronald Magill as 'Bishop Bernie Lampton', Laurence Harrington as 'Kelso Truscott Q.C.', Peter Whitbread as '13th Earl of Gurney'/'Detective Inspector Brockett', Nicholas Clay as 'Detective Sergeant Fraser', Elizabeth Tyrrell as 'Mrs Piggot-Jones', Francis Thomas as 'Matthew Peake', Joan White as 'Mrs Treadwell', with Ben Lefevre, Francis Thomas, John Manford, Richard Harbord, and Timothy Block.


2015: 1st West End London Revival with James McAvoy

Previewed 16 January 2015, Opened 27 January 2015, Closed 11 April 2015 at the Trafalgar Studio 1 (now Trafalgar Theatre)

A major revival of Peter Barnes’ comedy The Ruling Class in London starring James McAvoy

The cast featured James McAvoy as 'Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney', Ron Cook as 'Sir Charles Gurney', Serena Evans as 'Lady Claire Gurney', Anthony O'Donnell as 'Daniel Tucker', Elliot Levey as 'Dr Paul Herder', Forbes Masson as 'McKyle', Joshua McGuire as 'Dinsdale Tucker', Kathryn Drydale as 'Grace Shelley', Michael Cronin as 'Bishop Bernie Lampton', Paul Leonard as 'Ralph, 13th Earl of Gurney', with Andrew Bloomer, Geoffrey Towers, Oliver Lavery, and Rosy Benjamin.

Directed by Jamie Lloyd, with choreography by Darren Carnall, designs by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by Jon Clark, and music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham.

James McAvoy's London Theatre credits include Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade (Donmar Warehouse in 2001); Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain (Apollo Theatre 2009); and William Shakespeare's Macbeth (Trafalgar Studio 2013).

Ron Cook's London theatre credits include Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters (Albery Theatre 1987); David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (Donmar Warehouse 1994); Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock (Donmar Warehouse 1999); Nigel Planer's On the Ceiling (Garrick Theatre 2005); Brian Friel's Faith Healer (Royal Court Theatre 1992); and William Shakespeare's Henry V (Noel Coward Theatre 2013), Twelfth Night (Wyndham's Theatre 2008), Hamlet (Wyndham's Theatre 2009), King Lear (Donmar Warehouse 2010).

When this production opened 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."

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.