Verge Loves: The Ruling Class

Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Peter Barnes’ 1968 satirical black comedy at Trafalgar Studios is fantastically eccentric.

When I arrived in London this January, one of the first adverts to catch my eye was for The Ruling Class. This was partly because it starred James McAvoy and partly because the poster was beautiful. When I looked into it, I knew this show would be beyond phenomenal. I can now say I couldn’t be more thankful that I bit the bullet and bought the very expensive tickets.

'Devilish charmÂ’: James McAvoy finds teatime a drag with Forbes Masson and Paul Leonard in The Rulin

The Ruling Class is the story of a paranoid schizophrenic with a God complex from a very well to do family who later fantasises that he’s Jack the Ripper. Though this may not sound like comedy gold, its dark humour and commentary on old Etonian society, high class customs, and religion will leave you doubled over in laughter and possibly wondering why you’re laughing. If you’re easily offended, this show is not for you.


The play opens with the death of the 13th Earl of Gurney, played by Paul Leonard, during an auto-erotic asphyxiation misadventure in a tutu and cocked hat. The first scene gave us a taste of the potentially distasteful things to come.

The heir to the Gurney estate is his son Jack, played by James McAvoy. He returns from a stay at a clinic for paranoia and schizophrenia believing that he is the Lord Almighty. When asked why he thinks he’s God he replies, “Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I’m talking to myself.” He insists everyone call him one of the many names of God and seems to prefer JC.

During one of his first monologues, Jack posed the question “Are you happy?” and when the audience didn’t respond he kind of chuckled and said, “Wow, tough crowd. Let’s try that again.” There were a few points in the play when the audience did get a little carried away laughing and he couldn’t help but smile a bit himself.


McAvoy’s performance is electrifying, charismatic, passionate, and often terrifying as he dances around the stage. Whether he’s shuffling around like a “crippled dwarf” or leading a singing and dancing number, he literally throws himself around with zero inhibitions.

He also spends a good portion of the show sans shirt with “God is Love” written across his chest and, at one point, unicycles around the stage in just his underpants and shoes. If you came to this play exclusively to see him perform,  (which I kind of did) then all of your dreams would have come true in that short minute (which mine absolutely did).


The supporting cast shares the same electricity and charisma. Namely manservant Daniel Tucker, played by Anthony O’Donnell, who is bestowed £20,000 in the 13th Earl’s will, is a closet Marxist, and spends most of the play three sheets to the wind. In one of his monologues, he says he is not there to serve merely as cheap laughs and comedic relief. He’s an educated man with anarchist, Trotsyist, communist, and revolutionary  tendencies.


If I had the opportunity to see this show again I would do so in a heartbeat. I suppose that’s the wonderful thing about the theatre though: for one night, you get to see a show in all its live, raw, glory. You share the experience with the actors which is something you cannot do with a television screen. The passion exuded from this show is something I have never experienced and will remember for ages.

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