An ode to Peter Barnes, owed to Jamie Lloyd, James McAvoy, the entire cast of The Ruling Class and Trafalgar Transformed…

April 1, 2015

“Here is this miraculous world you live in and this is what you’ve done to it.” (said The Ruling Class… in my imagination… er…)

If I write about something in the first place, you know I’ve adored it enough that I couldn’t help myself spewing – as though I believe my inarticulate words could somehow transmit directly how I felt into you. Of course, they can’t. So this is doomed to failure before it has even begun, and worse: is boring too as I ramble on as I think one thing then another and then we’re in quicksand (if words were quicksand I’m definitely in it right now! Help!) But know that only love would make me write about this at all! And, ultimately, I suppose I write this for me, to remember this feeling.

A lot has been said about Mr McAvoy in this play and he is oh my goodness amazing in a way I was utterly unprepared for and which is just impossible to get over. Is he made for the stage? That’s how I felt, watching him! Nor are there words to really describe what he manages to create. I feel like he’s ripping out a part of himself and giving it to the audience/leaving it on the stage. Yet he’s doing that over and over again each night, or even twice a day! I’ve no idea how he finds either the emotional or physical energy. It feels to me somehow something different/more than a performance, though I’ve no idea what I mean!? I wanted to talk about the play itself though, because I feel part of the reason McAvoy is able to give this performance which is the most astounding little ‘ole me has seen on a stage is that this is a role dreams are made of in a great play which has far more to it than mere wit and a dash through genres.

So, all it took were Peter Barnes’ words and ideas in this play to make me fall a little bit in love with this man, who is no longer with us and about whom I know absolutely nothing else about. Why do I love The Ruling Class so? Well, it is riotous, laugh out loud funny, deliciously surreal, dark, pertinent and terrifying… and by the end it is ultimately disturbing and terribly, heartbreakingly sad… But that just describes it, explaining nothing… so… get to the point!

I love The Ruling Class because it does what great art has the capacity to: it says something true. I guess what I feel the play says over all is sort of: “Here is the world you were given: a world full of an infinity of miracles, a world full of love, joy – a place that could be your idea of Heaven made literal… and… by the end… this is what you have done with it. You, humans – you there in the audience – those there in society… you have made this world corrupted, polluted, damaged, merciless and cruel.” (If the play could talk like I just made it I think it would be more eloquent in explaining this though!) Yes The Ruling Class is a riot, yes it gets sinister, but I love most that by the end the play itself is merciless. It isn’t just an attack on The Ruling Class… it is an attack on YOU! In the best kind of a way: the kind of way that says – this is not how things should be! Humans made it so, so what are you going to do about it now? It is angry and I feel its anger and believe it and, well, who could argue? Just look around… And this is why I love Peter Barnes.

How does the play achieve this? I don’t know really (fail!) but I think that more than being about things like politics (Oh dear “things like politics!!?!” Now you know my level here, for shame!), mental health, class, it is about people and uses these themes to reflect what is wrong about the world in its entirety…. Did that make any sense? Rrrrr… I think the play challenges our perceptions or perhaps preconceptions of people in a general sense too, by showing how all its characters are more than mere products of their birth: they are shaped by what life has done unto them and how people and society have treated them. Then they’re judged by beliefs of others which too were formed by this cycle of oddity!

I want to say that the entire cast of the play are great and they all have touching moments. It seems daft to list and comment on everyone (though I would have loveliness to say about them all!) but just a few stand-out thoughts… That Kathryn Drysdale’s Grace has our full empathy and sympathy by the end of the play makes that ending resonate so; something tragic about Serena Evans’ character really stuck with me and I couldn’t shake the feeling; Forbes Masson is fabulous as his 543 wildly different characters, but as the electric Messiah, he really does full-on battle with James McAvoy and it is exhilarating to watch; Ron Cook who plays the most irredeemable character has so touching a moment near the end of the play you could cry for him… And to be a tad more specific about Mr McAvoy, in act 1 he is so charming that by the time he is called upon by the family to perform an actual miracle in order to prove his divinity you are willing J.C. with all your might to be able to make that miracle actually happen! In act one he is the most delightful, articulate, entertaining being you ever did see. Yet in act two I think McAvoy is far more impressive as he dredges the depths of Jack’s soul. Now Jack is calculating, dark, terrifying, knowingly despicable and no longer lovable at all, yet also very tragic and sad (but now not at all in a sympathetic way… more as a lament to what once was..? I’ll stop as I’m starting to tie myself in knots!)

I mentioned him in the title, but in fact I haven’t even mentioned him here and it’s probably partly my ignorance as I can’t say I can totally understand everything he has done for the play just from watching the finished wonder. But clearly Jamie Lloyd made the whole thing happen, thus huge credit his way. I’ve skim-read the play text and in so doing saw a number of subtle yet very important changes to the play itself: altering tiny bits that wouldn’t be right now in this time and shifting it to, well really to something better (I’m sure there was more than I noticed too)… but also, the play I read is just as wonderfully crazy and anarchic, but I feel like the play I saw has a little more warmth to it. Maybe it’s the difference between reading words and experiencing it, but I think it’s lovely that Jamie and the actors have brought warmth from the characters. And can I just say: there is a baby’s cry that heralds the interval and the way it is slowed down (signalling what will come in act two) is skin-crawly-shivery terrifying!! At least I found it so. Also, I love the flowers. That will mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t seen the play, but anyway! Did I say I might ramble?

I won’t forget this play. It’s the kind of play so wonderful it makes you want to see all of the plays! But all of the plays are not like this. To sum up: maybe we won’t all have the power to change the world and how society is (not that we shouldn’t try!) but even if the more personal message filers out for people, I think the play has something worthwhile to say as well as entertaining..? The message: treat people cruelly & there is a good chance they will grow to become cruel; care and love each other and just maybe people might grow not only to feel cared for and loved but to be able to care and love themselves..   Well, I think that’s a nice message this hilarious, crazy, scary and angry play expressed to me. And I think it is a message everyone could follow?

The Ruling Class runs until 11th April at http://trafalgartransformed.com/  If you’re seeing it in its last week-and-a-bit, I hope it gets you like it did me.

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