(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/29.)
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.