Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eclipsed... The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

This morning as I mulled over thoughts on the play I’d just seen, ‘The Ruling Classes’, with James McAvoy (14th Earl of Gurney) at the Trafalgar Studios, there’s a knock at the door.  I reluctantly opened the door to find two women who bore a disturbingly close resemblance to Mrs Peggot-Jones (Paul Leonard) and Mrs Treadwell (Forbes Masson) doing their drag act yesterday.  My eyes took in every pore on the nearest woman's bulbous nose together with the broken veins in the whites of her eyes, before I was asked, “do you know that something amazing is happening all over the world?” I nearly got drawn in at this point as I was itching to quip “you mean the solar eclipse” but restrained myself... “Would you like an invitation to join the special event?”, she asked thrusting a pastel coloured leaflet towards me.  I managed an empathetic “no thank you” and shut the door!  

Forbes Mason (Mrs Treadwell) & James McAvoy (JC)
These two women just happened to be calling door to door along my street but they inadvertently set my mind working on correlations between the play and society today, which of course is the whole point!   Jack has escaped from the realities of his love-starved childhood by creating a safe place for his mind to exist.  His revelation was at a ‘urinal in Acton’ but never mind the banality of the setting, he had a revelation that he was God.  These women are peddling their version of their safe place and off they shuffled to the next unsuspecting victim, safe in the belief that they are doing God's work, oblivious to the truly awe-inspiring phenomenon that was going on above their heads!

Their resemblance to the drag queens in the play was quite disturbing.  The free associations kept coming as I thought of the three disgraced judges just sacked for viewing naughty images on their judicial desktops...  What were they doing but trying to escape reality and hang the consequences (no pun intended), just like dear pater, 13th Earl of Gurney (also Paul Leonard), inadvertently asphyxiating himself in the process of auto-erotic entertainment at the end of a silk noose.

 Serena Evans (Lady Claire Gurney), J Mac (JC) & Kathryn Drysdale (Grace Shelley)
JC, as Jack likes to be called, is happily deluded at the outset of the play and we warm to him as a harmless (mad) eccentric.  He recognizes no distinctions between people and is as disarmingly kind and generous to both his aristocratic family as well as his servant, Tucker (Anthony O’Donnell).  As the play progresses JC is pushed further and further away from his place of safety.  As he gains his sanity he also gains the ability to act (no pun intended) until finally when all his delusions are stripped away he becomes a fiction.  He pretends to be a loving father and husband but is anything but in his new reality.

James McAvoy (Jack)
The ethos of the play is that the establishment and all its structures and principles are thoroughly rotten at the core and the skill of the play and its players is that we are drawn into the, inexorable, inevitable climax.

I dearly loved Jamie Lloyd's production of Peter Barnes' 1968 play.  The cast were excellent especially James McAvoy with his startling ability to emote and ride a uni cycle all at the same time! Whilst the play/production unashamedly used every theatrical trick in the book to move, shock and entertain its audience with JC even speaking directly to the audience at one point.  These devices only added to the freshness of the experience: many things have changed but the Establishment remains.

Given the current political climate where social mobility has gone into the doldrums, this production couldn’t be more relevant.  It reminds jaded idealists that there is a funny side to even the blackest environment and there will never be a total eclipse of the sun.


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