As The Ruling Class unfolded, it occurred to me that this was the third time I had seen McAvoy on stage.
I first saw him in Three Days of Rain, when he played
Walker, described in the programme as “unstable”.
I then saw him as Macbeth (or McAvoy as it is now known in our house). I’m sure we would all agree that Macbeth has a tenuous grasp on reality and is prone to paranoia.
He is currently playing, Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney in The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios.
Jack thinks he is God.
This led me to wonder if maybe McAvoy wasn’t a great actor
but actually needed to be committed for real.
But he is a great actor, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Written in 1968, his character, a paranoid schizophrenic, borrows from the hippy mantra of the times and urges his stuffy, aristocratic family to love one another. (This is accompanied by some low level
This sort of behaviour is frowned upon in The House of Lords and so a plan is quickly hatched to marry him off with his uncle’s mistress and produce an heir to be the 15th Earl of Gurney, before sending him back to an institution where he cannot embarrass the family. What could go wrong?
The birth of his child and some questionable treatment from
his doctor triggers a small kind of recovery and his evangelical zest for life and love is replaced by stuttering speech and violent outbursts.
The big lesson of the play is the parallel drawn between the God
complex of the insane Jack with his shining eyes and wonderment and the superiority of his aristocratic family. A return to normalcy results in Jack becoming hard, unscrupulous and dangerous.
Was he better when he was mad?
Was he safer?
It’s an interesting talking point, but if you’re looking for something to entertain rather than challenge, it’s surreal production
also offers unicycling, a drunken butler, music-hall style numbers, two “ladies” off the David Walliams variety and plenty of humour.
McAvoy will take the plaudits, but it’s a great cast with Joshua McGuire from The Hour as loveable Dinsdale and Serena Evans playing Jack’s aunt, keeping her on the right side of the bored, man-eater as she lusts after him.
It’s Anthony O’Donnell as butler Tucker that almost steals the show. “One less!” he exults as he finds one of the family dead.
I was laughing, tapping my feet to the music and yet also feared the outcome. The Ruling Class can only be described as a sinister romp. James McAvoy will be announcing the nominees for the prestigious Olivier Awards on Monday and he deserves to win one himself, even if he is really mad.