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Theatre Review: The Ruling Class

Joy Watters reviews a production that's 'bold and brimming with chutzpah'.

Pitlochry has revived Peter Barnes’ 1968 satire with its broadside on the establishment, another look at the class system which features in two other works in this year’s repertoire. It is a cracking piece of work in John Durnin’s production, bold and brimming with chutzpah from that revolutionary year. A large cast firing on all cylinders gets its teeth into the piece, ripping the aristocracy into shreds.

The ancient Gurney family’s thoughts turn to inheritance after the current earl croaks during overenthusiastic autoerotic asphyxiation. His son Jack is the heir but is mad and has been hidden away in an asylum. Jack thinks he is God and pitches up in his monk’s habit preaching the gospel of love and peace, man.

Structured like a revue with a series of short scenes and occasional bursts into song and dance, the audience sees the wicked uncle leading the family’s attack on Jack. Unsuccessful efforts are made to have him declared insane. The ‘ruling class’ protects is own as Jack and one of his assessors are part of the old boys’ network, lustily singing the Eton Boat Song together.

The family plans to marry Jack off, with his future wife (nicely handled in Joanna Lucas’ performance) commenting that lots of women marry men who think they are God.

Jack’s madness takes a new turn. No longer the God of love, he becomes vengeful, a Jack the Ripper for our times. Jack Wharrier gives a stand out performance as the lunatic heir, initially a smiling, biddable hippy transforming into a hanger and flogger ready for the House of Lords. Wharrier perfectly captures the varying styles of the work from farce to the downright chilling.

Runs in repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until October 14.

Tags: theatre

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