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The Ruling Class

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

When an institutionalised posh boy with mental health issues and a messiah complex the size of his family's mansion inherits his father's title, the old school way of doing things appear to be in ruins. Given that young Jack's ascension comes as a result of an unfortunate incident during a bout of auto-asphyxiation, his apparent madness is just one more skeleton in the familial closet. What follows in John Durnin's rare revival of Peter Barnes' 1968 satire is a piece of madcap classicism which, while clearly a product of its time, points up how little has changed in a world of back-scratching toffs.

At first, Jack Wharrier's mercurial Jack is a voguish hippy, flirting with notions of peace, love and spiritual enlightenment in a way that sees him mounted on a cross in a statement of his own self-deified glory. Increasingly absurdist lurches of style involving references to Richard III, Victorian pot-boilers and music hall song and dance routines point the way for Monty Python and fellow travellers in British surrealism. There are showgirl mistresses, a dim would be Tory MP and a Bolshevik butler.

While characterisations are writ large on a set where the swish of curtains and a series of projections delineate each reality, Durnin's large cast quite rightly take them seriously while recognising their inherent ridiculousness. Jack's metamorphosis is defined by a final speech which could have been lifted straight out of last week's Hansard in its championing of classic right wing mores. It's a telling illustration of how the rotten core of an unhinged and seemingly untouchable establishment get away with murder at every level.

The Herald, July 28th 2017

ends

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