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A CurtainUp London Review
The Ruling Class
The first act, which feels half an hour too long, concentrates on the family getting Jack to marry Sir Charles Gurney's (Ron Cook) bit on the side Grace Shelley (played by Kathryn Drysdale) in order to produce an heir who can take over from mad Jack. The problem is that Jack, who is as mad as a hatter, is convinced he is already married to Marguerite Dumas, la Dame aux Camelias. Cue the waltz from La Traviata and Grace Shelley enters dressed as a nineteenth century French courtesan.
Dr Herder, a psychiatrist (Eliot Levy) is called in to help Jack recover his sanity and introduces another God candidate paranoid schizophrenic (Forbes Masson) to challenge Jack's delusions.
The second act sees Jack apparently sane except that he is linked to murders of prostitutes in London's East End.
Soutra Gilmour's set is the right kind of country mansion and outdoor scenes see sunflowers rising from the floorboards.
There are three excellent things about this production which make it worth seeing. Firstly is the magnificent performance of the newish Professor Charles Xavier in the recent X Men films, James McAvoy. It is a beautiful role for him, even if the plot is untidy and anarchic and dated in the class hatred of the politically naive 1960s.
McAvoy plays it for maximum comedy; no reference to Jesus goes without a smile and yet he also appears saintly and innocent. McAvoy is calm and regal as God, mounting the crucifix, erected in the stately home hall, to sleep and scaring the life out of visitors. After the "cure"as the apparently more conventional 14th Earl of Gurney, he is charming and handsome and convinces in adopting upper class bigotry so different from Jack's former Christian ideals.
Secondly is Jamie Lloyd's faultless direction of a strong ensemble cast. Thirdly, and these are the scenes I enjoyed most, there are some wonderful song and dance numbers; among them an energetic rag, Dem Bones, and a rendition of the Eton Boating Song when Jack recalls his days at Eton and passes a psychiatric examination from a fellow Old Etonian sent to assess him.
The butler Daniel Tucker (Anthony O'Donnell) is exposed as a Trotskyite agent but he adds to the comedy. The final, after a few murders, sees Jack taking his seat in the House of Lords among the Law Lords, who are coated in cobwebs, and with his language disintegrating into inarticulate and incomprehensible sounds.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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