The Ruling Class is a campy satirical black comedy about Jack, the next Earl of Gurney, and his paranoid schizophrenia, which causes him to believe that he is God. Heavy-handed, even pantomimic in places, it’s a difficult play for any company to tackle, and Will Owen and his team make a commendably detailed and stylish effort with it.
Gabriella Gormley’s set design is most impressive, perfectly capturing the mood of the play. Neon-lined chapel windows light up in blackouts, a clever nod towards the mingling of tradition and sleaziness, as well as a skeleton and Rorschach test diagram smoothly flown in for Dr Herder’s office. Lara Wolfe provides a giddy but not distracting selection of coloured lighting states, which, combined with sound from Fernando Georgiou, complement the play’s erratic changes of mood. Costumes from Sophie van Horne are also excellent, ranging from an opulent bishop’s get-up to a red satin slip, as well as a waistcoat scrawled with the words, ‘GOD IS LOVE’.
Milo Callaghan, in the lead role of the delusional 14th Earl of Gurney, is obviously an actor to watch. His delivery is polished and his comic timing is brilliant, with enough boyish charisma to maintain the balance between likeable and frightening. What’s more, he can’t half ride a unicycle. Harriet Fisher portrays Tucker, the self-proclaimed ‘comic relief’ manservant, with great panache. She delivers countless comic turns with full vigour and focus, and has moments of darkly humorous world-weariness that are worthy of a far more mature actress.
Sophie Atherton is beautifully snobbish and uptight as the heavy-smoking Claire Gurney, and her scene of aggressive sexual chemistry with Callaghan with terrifying results, which could become ridiculous, is instead convincing and electrifying. Jonathan Iceton’s performance as the ‘Electric Jesus’ McKyle is a feat of striking energy (punning aside), while Emily Webster portrays Dr Herder with a stiff elegance and academic dignity, and Rob Ryan makes an endearingly baffled, disapproving Bishop Lampton.
Jamie Bisping deserves special mention for his exemplary characterisation as the snotty Dinsdale Gurney. Superbly petulant, his physicality, voice and expressions are all first-rate as he moves seamlessly between smug and snivelling. Anna Wright is spirited and fluent as Grace Shelley, the Cockney actress of some dubious pursuits who steps into the role of God’s wife. Emil Sands as Sir Charles Gurney displays some corpsing and less-than-convincing moments, but his vocals as the austere patriarch are strong and engaging, and he warms up as the play goes along. In his best moments, Sands is hilarious.
Moments of dialogue delivered to the audience are a little dodgy, skating close to school play performances. There are frequent scene changes, many of which are silent and rather abrupt; some transitional music might have been in keeping with the play’s style. But this is all just polish, and Owen should be proud.
The Ruling Class is like a hallucinogenic nightmare, and this production is designed, directed and acted like one… but in a good way.
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