A class of its own

Finally. I’ve been waiting since 27 October for this night: The Ruling Class!

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Let’s be honest, there was one reason in particular for my going. Having missed his star turn in Macbeth two years ago, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to see James McAvoy in action! Plus I’d seen both instalments of Trafalgar Transformed 2 (Richard III and East is East) so I wanted to complete the set, as it were.

I’d never actually heard of the play before, so wasn’t sure what to expect – all I’d heard was this:

You cannot prepare yourself for what happens inside that auditorium! From the word go, actually. It begins with the 13th Earl of Gurney indulging in, let’s say, an interesting hobby – which unfortunately leads to his accidental death (it has to be seen to be believed)… And that paves the way for the return of Jack (McAvoy), soon-to-be 14th Earl of Gurney.

Or should that be Jesus Christ? J.C.? The God of Love?

The sudden song and dance routines (I think the Varsity Drag was probably my favourite) are an unexpected joy and seamlessly done. It’s just so matter-of-fact: one moment they’re conversing normally, the next it’s jazz hands all the way!

My own reaction at half time says it all, I think…

The second half (somehow) takes a darker and more sinister turn, as Jack has a new (but secret) alias: Jack the Ripper. The Gurney family’s in-fighting and plotting allows ambition to be put ahead of health and sanity, with devastating consequences.

McAvoy’s ability to switch from essentially ‘harmless’ Jack, the paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, to dangerous and devious Jack (‘normal’ on the outside but with murderous intent) is stunning. Being quite near the front did help in some respects, as you can really see it in his eyes. A commanding performance, brimming with charisma: compelling viewing.

A special mention has to go to Anthony O’Donnell, as long-serving Communist butler Tucker. After Jack, he has some of the best lines in the play, which are easily delivered with magnificent comic timing. I guess for much of the audience he is the one you can most identify with, so when he is so casually betrayed by the man he has stayed utterly faithful to, it is properly heartbreaking and shocking.

Jamie Lloyd’s direction is, as ever, stunning. I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job of overseeing such important seasons of theatre.

‘The Ruling Class’ is more important now than ever, as it leaves you questioning what is right and wrong, sane and insane… And whether you should just sit back and let a small group of people run your lives just because they have the wealth and the historical name. Admittedly, it’s easier that way – but hardly conducive to equality. Think about that in the run-up to the general election in May, why doncha…

Tickets really are like gold dust, but if you can you must go. Unless you can make a midweek matinée or want to splash out on an expensive seat for later on in the run, it may be worth trying the £15 Monday deal. This runs on the 2nd of each month (online & in person), selling tickets for Monday night performances – they go crazy fast though, so you have to be quick!

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