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The Ruling Class

First Published 29 January 2015, Last Updated 30 January 2015

What’s it all about?

When the 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally kills himself during his daily erotic asphyxiation routine, the Earl’s entire estate is left to his son Jack. This doesn’t go down well with the rest of his family, especially considering Jack is a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he’s God. And so begins the family’s plot, led by Jack’s uncle Sir Charles Gurney, to seize his fortune.

As plans go, this one’s pretty far-fetched and sees Charles employ the seductive skills of his mistress – a former stripper – to pose as fictional heroine Marguerite Gautier, to whom Jack believes he is married. Once the knot has been tied, Jack can produce an heir that, when he is finally certified insane, will allow Charles and his fellow plotters to take control of the estate while the child comes of age.

Naturally it doesn’t go to plan…

Who’s in it?

James McAvoy plays the man who’s lost his marbles (but gained a fortune). It’s an all-singing, all-dancing role – quite literally – that sees the X-Men star ride a unicycle, break into song, coo like a bird, dance with a cane and imitate a “stunted dwarf”. We’re not kidding!

Undoubtedly the most eccentric character you’ll see on the London stage this winter, McAvoy captures Jack’s insanity with a suitably erratic performance, reeling out sentences quicker than director Jamie Lloyd gets snapped up for his next project and smiling disquietingly in the knowledge of his divine status.

While the former Olivier Award nominee, who was seen on the same stage for his 2013 performance as Macbeth, is an impressive lead, his fellow cast members live up to his abilities. Fellow Olivier Award nominee Ron Cook, who was recognised alongside Jude Law for his portrayal of Pistol in Michael Grandage’s 2013 production of Henry V, gives yet another high calibre performance in the role of Sir Charles, malicious, indignant but ultimately determined to fulfil his aim.

Forbes Masson and Paul Leonard thrive in a number of roles but most notably as the giddy Mrs Treadwell and stone-faced handbag-wielding Mrs Piggot-Jones who can’t quite believe they’re actually being touched by the Lord.

The epitome of hilarity throughout, Anthony O’Donnell is outstanding as the late Earl’s servant Daniel Tucker, whose reactions to both his late master’s death and his new-found wealth provide two unforgettable laugh-out-loud moments.

What should I look out for?

Soutra Gilmour, Lloyd’s regular design collaborator, pulls another striking set out of bag. This one is lavishly decorated with leather furniture and a chequered floor through which sunflowers appear and disappear.

Naturally, all eyes are on the star casting but in particular make sure you listen out for Jack’s response when asked how he knows he’s God.

Who was in the gala night crowd?

McAvoy had plenty of support from fellow performers in the audience at last night’s gala night. They included his Macbeth co-star Claire Foy and her husband, Chimerica’s Stephen Campbell Moore, Simon Callow, David Morrissey and, arguably the most supportive of all, Anne-Marie Duff who prior to taking to the stage in the National Theatre’s Husbands And Wives this autumn was at the Trafalgar Studios to cheer on her husband.

In a nutshell?

James McAvoy proves himself one of the most versatile actors of his generation in Peter Barnes’ anarchic 1969 comedy that adds yet another triumphant production to Jamie Lloyd’s unstoppable success.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@MatSeadonYoung The Ruling Class @TrafTransformed is top notch. It’s unnerving, brilliantly bonkers, politically probing and perfectly pitched. Jolly good.

@zoerainey Another @lloydjamie triumph with The Ruling Class @TrafTransformed. Such a great political and social statement. Brilliant. X

Will I like it?

There is no doubt that McAvoy fans would flock to the Trafalgar Studio 1 no matter what his role, but they’re in for a real treat when they set eyes on the Scottish actor as this mentally unhinged aristocrat. For someone who has already pulled off an eclectic array of performances – from a gentle fawn in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to a telepathic genius in the X Men films – The Ruling Class forms a complete departure and features McAvoy at his absolute best.

The play may not have quite the shock factor it had during its 1960s premiere in its attack on the British upper classes, but it is still packed full of deliciously dark comedy that makes for a raucously entertaining evening, made even better by Lloyd’s impeccable direction and a stellar cast of performers.


The Ruling Class is playing at the Trafalgar Studio 1 until 11 April 2015. You can book tickets through the Trafalgar Transformed season’s website.


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