Review: The Ruling Class @Trafalgar Studios

Hello everyone!

A while ago me and my boyfriend wanted to treat ourselves and have a nice day out, so we  booked some tickets for the theatre online. And this Thursday the day finally came when we went to see THE RULING CLASS at Trafalgar Studios in London! This play has been getting quite a lot of attention from the media, and it is needless to say I was super excited, nervous and anxious at the same time. The last time I’ve seen a play was in Brazil, over 5 years ago, when me and my parents went to see Verdi’s La Traviata.


Now, I cringe a little about calling this a “review”, since I am by no means a critic or even experienced in this field to be able to judge, but I’ll stick with it due to the lack of a more appropriate expression. My only intention is to write about the experience I had watching the play and my own, unbiased opinion about it. I thought that, for once, it might be interesting to read a review from a normal, young person who enjoys theatre, as opposed to your regular smug old critic with texts so puffed up you have to google most of the words to understand what they’re all about.

This being said, let’s proceed…!

The Ruling Class was originally written by Peter Barnes in 1968 and turned into a movie in 1972. This has been the first time the play has been revived by British Director Jamie Lloyd. It’s the story of Jack Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney, who inherits his fathers estate after his accidental death during a bizarre session of erotic asphyxiation, dressed in a tutu. But – Jack suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that makes him believe he’s Jesus Christ (or JC, if you prefer). Deeming him unfit, his family plots against him to take the estate away from the insane heir.

At Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall
At Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall

The story sounds pretty intriguing on its own, but what makes it even more special is the fact that the main character, Jack, is played by no one less than Hollywood star James McAvoy (The last King of Scotland, Filth, X-Men).

I remember the first time I saw McAvoy was in “Becoming Jane“, where he played Jane Austen’s love interest, Mr. Tom Lefroy. I absolutely loved the movie (as I do with everything related to Jane Austen) and did so specially because of Mr. Lefroy. That charming smile, those big, pleading blue eyes…you got it!

But I digress; let’s get back to The Ruling Class. I had never seen a play in England before and because we booked the tickets months ago, I had forgotten where our seats were. To my astonishment we were seated in the first row, right in the middle. God, how could I have forgotten that?!

But I only realised what it really meant to be so close when the lights went dark and the curtains opened. There, just before me, so close I thought I could reach my arm out and touch them, stood the first two actors and started with the introduction. There was no stage, no barriers, nothing. Just a bit of empty space separating us from the smartly dressed actors in front of us. Having never had an experience like that, I was FASCINATED. It reminded me of how much I used to enjoy the trips to the opera with my parents, how I could just forget where I was and immerse into the story taking place in front of my eyes.

During the interval, check out how close the row is to the stage
During interval. Check out how close the row is to the stage!

The first minutes of the play already had me giggling and mildly shocked at the same time, and I admired the language, the typical British accents and the expressions I was seeing and hearing.

But my heart really skipped a beat when, out from the dark, a figure, completely dressed in a brown monk’s robe, face hidden, slowly walked into the light of the stage. As he slowly pulled back his hood my mind frantically repeated “it’s him, it’s him”. Smiling sheepishly, he glanced around himself for a second before saying “hello” in a sly voice, making the audience burst into laughter.

Yes, admittedly, I had strong fangirl moment there. But honestly, can you blame me for it? After all, I never imagined I’d see an actor I had admired on the telly for many years standing so close to me. Breathing. Moving. Real. It was really happening.

And it was brilliant.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from The Ruling Class, apart from what I’ve read in the description and some other online reviews. And, since the play has been running for a while now, a part of me wondered whether the cast would eventually get a bit tired of it and loose some of the motivation. Thankfully, my worries were completely unnecessary; what we got to see during those 2.45 hours was simply amazing.

The play somehow succeeds in making you laugh and blush during some moments and scare and shock you in the next. The first part was marked by witty jokes (Mr. Tuckers comments about his noble employers are hilarious), Jacks passionate sermons about love and his family’s ironic remarks and plots against the young heir. James performance is bursting with energy, charm and confidence. During his speeches about the God of love his eyes sparkle and the intensity in his voice makes you want to stand up and yell “Amen, brother!”. Oh, and did I mention he rides a unicycle wearing nothing but underpants?

Being so close to the action, I could see each and every move, expression and glance from the actors from close-up. James’ acting was far more than just verses and gestures; he acts with his whole body and heart. It was obvious he enjoyed what he was doing; his eyes were either shining with excitement or glistening with tears and his voice was full of personality. Together with the rest of the cast he jumped, danced and sang, all to the utter delight of the crowd. I particularly enjoyed the comic feature of having the characters sing and dance to short songs like you would expect in a musical. Because they were timed so randomly, it just added that extra dash of fun and bizarreness to the play.

As for the rest of the cast – they were stupendous. I immediately became a fan of cynical servant Mr. Tucker (played by Anthony O’Donnell) and the two giggling Tory ladies that are actually portrayed by men (Paul Leonard and Forbes Masson). Maybe because of my own background, I also had some sympathy for Jacks psychiatrist, Dr. Herder, who seems to be German. Ich grüße Sie, Herr Doktor!

There are also some singing parts to the play, and someone who did particularly well on those was beautiful actress Kathryn Drysdale, who plays Marguerite Gautier aka Grace. I remember thinking “wooow” during her short solo, and wishing she’d had more of those moments.

During the second half of the play, the atmosphere completely changes. After being “cured” by Dr. Herder, Jack had transformed into a grim, dark shadow who now believes to be Jack the Ripper. Despite the dramatic change, James manages to keep the play together with his captivating portrait of the completely different, evil Jack. The way he goes around the stage like a ticking-bomb waiting to explode makes you sit and stay on the edge of your seat. It seemed so real I was actually scared for him, and at the same time a little bit of him. He comes closer to the crowd, his face distorted in anger and resentment, and his blue eyes seem to be looking directly at you while he speaks.

It was fascinating to watch James switch from funny to charming, to obscure, to naive and back without ever losing credibility. One moment he swirls around the stage gracefully, admiring flowers and dancing, only to be bent on his knees in despair or screaming in exasperation the next.

At the end of the play the actors were showered with standing ovations, which they truly deserved. I absolutely loved the plot, the choice of actors and the execution of the play.

Happy face after the play :)
Happy face after the play 🙂

It has been argued whether The Ruling Class is still a relevant play in our time, but if you ask me, I’d say it is. Although England has undoubtedly changed, social classes (and their differences) are still a key feature in this society. And if, for instance, we think about Mr. Tuckers sad ending, doesn’t it still remind us of how powerful people often still have the upper hand against the less privileged? Or of how the law doesn’t seem to apply the same way to the rich as it does for the “working class”? Although the critics in this play are directed towards the noble classes, it still gives you something to think about in my opinion. And that, for me, does make it relevant.

Finally, would I recommend watching “The Ruling Class”?

The answer is a loud, confident YES! The cast is amazing, James McAvoy’s performance is breathtaking, the play is funny, cynical, dark, and everything you want it to be. By the end of it I was emotionally exhausted from the roller-coaster of smiles, shock, fear and anxiety I’ve been put through. But I will be forever grateful that I got the chance to see this marvellous play. Hell, I would even go see it a second time if my budget allowed it!

Sadly, we did not have the chance to see the actors afterwards. Of course I would have loved to take a picture or two and say how much I’ve enjoyed it….but maybe if you’re lucky you might!

The Ruling Class is still running until the April 11, so you might still be able to get a ticket, although it’s basically sold out. Also, I just discovered that for some performances, there will be a Q&A after the play. Aaah, you lucky devils!

Have you seen the play or are you interested in it? Make sure to let me know, I’d love to hear your opinions or questions about it! 🙂

Thanks so much for reading and see you soon,


One thought on “Review: The Ruling Class @Trafalgar Studios

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