Stage Wrong Productions’ The Ruling Class by Peter Barnes is a superb and delightful show presented by a talented young cast fairly brimming with promise. A simple stage was lit up by strong performances and excellent production design.
The eccentric 13th Earl of Gurney has died after an accident involving autoerotic asphyxiation. In his will he leaves most of his fortune to his heir Jack, or the new Earl of Gurney (Tom Bannon) who thinks he is literally Jesus Christ and God Almighty.
The family left behind is composed of the half-brother of the 13th Earl, Sir Charles (Basil Bowdler), his wife Claire (Eleanor Cousins Brown) and their son Dinsdale (Charlie Wade) who plot to try to gain control of the family fortune. Grace (Celine Barclay) is Charles’ lover and an actress from Clapman, and her attempted seduction of Jack using all her charm and acting skills as La Dame aux Camelias provides room for a memorable performance. Dr Herder (Luke Buckley Harris) will also try to get some money for his own research, and the Bishop (Jack Parkin) will be involved trying to make sense of it all in God’s eyes.
Jack was as charming and caustic as he was supposed to be. He made the stage his own with the strength and energy of his performance. His delusions of grandeur made us laugh and fall in love with his insanity. Once he is “cured”, while secretly believing himself to be Jack the Ripper, he shows us the insanity of society itself, especially with his speech issued at The House of Lords.
It was impossible to overlook Sir Charles' perpetual frown. He managed to keep that typical and crooked look of the powerful, dissatisfied and irritated upper-class Englishman during the whole performance, which must have eventually caused him pain. Or perhaps it came naturally, who knows! Dr Herder, Dinsdale and the Bishop were simply immaculate. Tucker made us feel very sorry for his inevitable destiny at the hands of the malicious patrons. Claire was uptight yet somehow careless as could be, a poignant contrast. Grace was performed with the necessary dosage of passion, sweetness and delicacy. Her singing voice was the nicest surprise of the show.
The Ruling Class is a witty, dark and satirical comedy that shows us how relevant class and privilege still are, even 50 years since it was first performed. Unmissable for locals as well as foreigners trying to illuminate some obscurely English traits.