Written by Celyn on January 29 2015
Plays with fat star-parts tend to survive. Even if the class antagonism in Peter Barnes’s 1968 extravaganza now looks a bit blatant, the piece has a juicy lead role that Peter O’Toole played on screen with mercurial fervour. Following in his footsteps, James McAvoy lends Jamie Lloyd’s revival a no less astonishing physical bravura.
McAvoy plays Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, who, believing he is the New Testament God, is immediately classified as mad. “How do you know you are God?” he is asked. “Simple,” he replies. “When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.”
Plots by the family to strip Jack of his title are, however, foiled by an enthusiastic therapist who restores him to what passes for sanity. Once Jack joins the ranks of the hangers and floggers, espouses Old Testament values and announces “there is no love without fear”, he is ready to take his place in the House of Lords.
I’d be the last person to deny that class is still a potent factor in British life, but there are times when Barnes’s play betrays its age: the assumption that all bluebloods are barking and that the Lords is a rest home for neanderthals is very much of the late 1960s. But Barnes’s play has as an intoxicating energy that allows characters to spring into song-and-dance at a moment’s notice and still touches a few raw nerves.