As 2015 begins, East is East will be moving out of London’s West End to go on tour, being replaced by a revival of Peter Barnes’ play from the 1960s The Ruling Class.
These productions are part of the second Trafalgar Transformed season and, in an unusual move, Artistic Director Jamie Lloyd gathered together the casts and creatives from both for a handover on the main stage of Trafalgar Studios. Stephen Bates joined the party.
One of the hottest theatre directors around, Lloyd has, in the last six months alone, moved with ease from Shakespeare to Sondheim and he is proud of the diverse audiences drawn to this production of East is East (directed by Sam Yates); he glows when he tells of seeing old ladies in tweeds from the Shires sitting alongside young East End lads in audiences that laughed and cried together. Theatregoers are still seen as largely white, middle class and middle aged, but Lloyd is passionate about breaking down barriers and reaching out to wider audiences.
The first Trafalgar Transformed season began with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the second will now continue with Barnes’ biting satire on the British class system, but is there a theme that links the plays chosen? Lloyd explained that all the plays are British and all question what it is to be British. Trafalgar Studios is situated at the top of Whitehall, the street at the heart of power in Britain and Lloyd is determined to respond to this location by presenting plays that have a political edge.
Ayub Khan Din, writer and co-star of East is East, joined Lloyd, along with the other co-star, stage and screen favourite Jane Horrocks. Their play centres on an Asian family adjusting to life in Britain, making its themes very current, but The Ruling Class deals with a class system thought to be long dead and could, at first sight, be thought very dated. However, when reading it, Lloyd was struck by its topicality, explaining that the old aristocracy has now been replaced by a modern form of plutocracy in which “new money” wields all the power in the same way that the upper class did in the past.
James McAvoy played Macbeth in the inaugural Trafalgar Transformed production and he now returns to take the lead in The Ruling Class, which Lloyd himself will direct. Asked for his reasons, he responded jokingly “because I get a lot of lines in it”, but the X-Men star corrected himself, citing the opportunity to work again with Lloyd as his prime incentive. He typifies the sense of unity and common purpose which seemed to permeate both companies assembled here – two “families” brought together briefly as one.
East in East runs at Trafalgar Studios until 3rd January and then tours toBirmingham, Manchester and Richmond. The Ruling Class runs at Trafalgar Studios from 16th January until 11th April.