If i’m honest, I hadn’t to date seen enough of James McAvoy’s work to fully appreciate his range as an actor.
I loved him in X-Men: First Class – but then the X-Men movies haven’t disappointed yet – and as the Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. That said, I haven’t yet seen The Last King of Scotland, which earned him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, nor Atonement, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination and his second BAFTA nomination for Best Leading Actor.
I sat down to watch The Ruling Class then, not knowing at all what to expect. However from the very first opening scene I knew I was in for a treat.
What began with an intriguing set up of the 13th Earl of Gurney, Ralph Gurney (Paul Leonard), discussing his family’s future with his manservant, Daniel Tucker (Anthony O’Donnell) very quickly escalated into something else altogether. When James McAvoy made his entrance shortly thereafter, I was in no doubt that this was a play not afraid to explore darker themes, albeit with a wicked sense of humour.
I won’t say too much on the plot as I really feel it’s one to jump in at the deep end and savour. Needless to say there were twists and turns throughout and I could never be sure what would happen next. James McAvoy is spell-binding in the lead role as Jack, the schizophrenic 14th Earl of Gurney. His ability to switch from sneering aristocrat to a being of wild frenzy at a moment’s notice kept me on my toes, eyes riveted to the stage.
The script is lightning quick at times and sharp-witted, with an hysterical mixture of observational, surreal, and physical comedy from all the cast. From the scheming of Sir Charles Gurney (Ron Cook) – flabbergasted when his plans backfire – to his rather-slow-on-the-uptake son Dinsdale Gurney (Joshua McGuire), and the saucy innuendo of Lady Claire Gurney (Serena Evans), not to mention the timely outbursts of Anthony O’Donnell’s manservant.
Special mention should also be made of Kathryn Drysdale as Grace Shelley, managing both a convincing cockney slang and a powerful performance as The Lady of The Camellias. Both actresses gave strong performances – always on opposite sides when it came to Jack – and their constant back and forth was entertaining. There was also a jolly musical interlude from Anthony O’Donnell that, upon witnessing, you couldn’t resist cracking a smile to.
McAvoy barrels throughout, a force of hilarity and mad-as-a-hatter antics, using no shortage of props before a cheeky wink to the audience and then himself breaking into song. His comic timing is genius and the stage electrified – sometimes literally! – by his presence and energy.
Full use was also made of the small set with nice little reveals and lavish costume changes to keep it fresh. The imagery of moving between locations was very clear even with little physical change to the backdrop, and there were good sound and visual effects to supplement the on stage action.
The performance we saw was captioned by Stagetext with the caption box centred above the stage, easily viewable from where we were sitting. The captions were superb and only reinforced how much of the difficult script the actors had committed to memory. All the spoken lines were delivered confidently and fluently which was no mean feat given some of the ridiculously nonsensical phrases that were uttered – particularly by McAvoy!
In short, I was completely blown away by both James McAvoy’s dynamism as a stage actor and the lively script, delivered by an impressive cast overall. It was a wonderful evening of side-splitting laughs.
The Ruling Class runs until Saturday 11th April at Trafalgar Studios – although there are no further captioned performances scheduled at the present time – and tickets, though in short supply are still being released.