Trafalgar Studios, London
Written by Peter Barnes
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Director Jamie Lloyd continues to prove a deliciously petulant force in London theatre with productions of The Hothouse, Urinetown and most recently Assassins that have all sought to parody an accepted view of society, government or history. With his new production of Peter Barnes’ The Ruling Class, Lloyd again takes aim at what is shown to be a blatant madness that lies within institutionalised power structures, specifically in this work the control and influence of the English political and moneyed elites.
Barnes 1969 satire displayed a vision for the timelessness of sharp political farce, with The Ruling Class feeling as painfully poignant and relevant amongst today’s New Labour and Cameron’s Bullingdon buddies as it would have done in the Swinging Sixties, yet with moments in the play that resonate with our era’s phone hacking scandal and a ruling “Old Boys” club.
Lloyd again pairs up with James McAvoy, directing the Scottish actor in an unrelenting portrayal of the schizophrenic 14th Earl of Gurney. Mcavoy's performance will have one both crying with laughter and shifting uncomfortably, such is the recognisability of Gurney’s world. As the play progresses it darkens, becoming increasingly disquieting yet enthralling. Gurney’s arc highlights the contrasts of his world, and when he is ultimately brought into the fold of the ruling class, McAvoy offers a truly terrifying reality, performed brilliantly - and thats even without his topless unicycling!
The entire cast’s energy is sensational throughout, with Joshua McGuire in particular continuing to display his talented versatility. And in the event that Barne's carefully crafted irony may have been lost on the audience, a tenet of the play’s message is spelled out in an interjection from Anthony O’Donnell’s butler, Tucker, reminding us that it is 1% of the country owns 50% of the nation's property. A comment that is as relevant today as ever.
In what is fast becoming a recognised double act of theatrical creativity, Lloyd turns to Soutra Gilmour for her distinctive design work. Staged in the Trafalgar Studios, a venue that, in a previous existence as the Whitehall Theatre was famous for farce in the 50’s and 60’s there is a comforting appropriateness in the location. Lloyd however would be appalled should his shows ever be mistaken for comfortable viewing. The Ruling Class is satire at its best, powerfully written and sharply presented. Unmissable.
Runs until 11th April 2015