THE RULING CLASS
by Peter Barnes.
Trafalgar Transformed (Studio 1) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 11 April 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 January.
Wild time as non-conformity hits the Establishment.
This is the sort they don’t write them like any more; big, bruising dramas, which playwrights like John Osborne, John Arden and, coming on the scene with this 1968 piece, Peter Barnes, produced. Profligate in incident, luxuriant in language, unafraid to be tough, seeking no consolatory endings, they assaulted the consciousness, shook it about and left it to grapple with itself – an old generation of bulls still occasionally let loose in the stylish boutiques purveying modern drama.
It can seem strength that picks you up and carries you along – or a sense of points being over-forcibly rammed home. As censorship lay newly in its coffin, and half a verse of the National Anthem still scratchily played after many theatre performances, Barnes’ rough rampage through deity, royalty and the kowtowing hypocrisy and self-deception they engender, had a, now diminished, immediacy.
Ferocity was Barnes’ forte, sex and death his weapons. For Nottingham Playhouse, where Ruling Class premiered, Barnes also adapted Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass – both playwrights drive a theatrical bulldozer at society – and conflated two plays by another writer from the dramatic rough-house. In Wedekind’s Lulu plays sex is endemic, and death leaves its calling-card in the name of Jack the Ripper.
This play opens amid the fuddy-duddy aristocracy. At the end, in Jamie Lloyd’s forceful new revival, they’re shrouded in cobwebs. But first a masochistic ritual goes wrong, leading to a self-hanging. What horrifies the aristos, though, is the consequent accession of a maverick Earl, necessarily expressed within the respect a title carries.
True, it’s hard to deal with someone whose proof he is God is that whenever he prays he finds he’s talking to himself. But that’s nothing to the rootless conformity and pieties in which most characters here express themselves. It’s a one-man show-off of a piece, and James McAvoy relishes every opportunity for Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney to set-off Barnes’ fireworks. Around are a selection of Britain’s strongest actors, including Ron Cook, Serena Evans, Anthony O’Donnell and others, who stand expertly as moveable objects in the path of this irresistible force.
Sir Charles Gurney: Ron Cook.
Bishop Bertie Lampton: Michael Cronin.
Grace Shelley: Kathryn Drysdale.
Lady Claire Gurney: Serena Evans.
13th Earl of Gurney/Mrs Pigott-Jones/Kyle’s Assistant/Detective Inspector Brockett/2nd Lord: Paul Leonard.
Dr Herder: Elliot Levey.
Toastmaster/Matthew Peake/Mrs Treadwell/McKyle/Kelso Truscott QC/Detective Sergeant Fraser/1st Lord: Forbes Masson.
Jack 14th Earl of Gurney: James McAvoy.
Dinsdale Gurney: Joshua McGuire.
Daniel Tucker: Anthony O’Donnell.
Ensemble: Rosy Benjamin, Andrew Bloomer, Oliver Lavery, Geoffrey Towers.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound/Music: Ben and Max Ringham.
Musical Director: Huw Evans.
Choreographer: Darren Carnall.
Voice/Dialect: Penny Dyer,
Wigs/Hair: Richard Mawbey.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Associate director: Richard Fitch.
Associate designer: Rachel Wingate.
Associate costume: Christopher Cahill.