“The script is over four hundred pages!” complains the agent (Robert Boulter) to writer and playwright Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap), before pointing out that nobody would sit through a play that long. Cue knowing smiles and giggles in the audience. Does The Inheritance need to be six and a half hours (a reduction from over seven hours in its previous run at the Young Vic) long? Strictly speaking, no, and in the course of the matinee and evening (or two evenings, however, you wish to see both parts) a production of this scale perhaps inevitably ebbs and flows. It has to, if anything, to build dramatic tension and then release it. And there aren’t too many of those ‘wow’ moments, making each of them suitably substantial.
It does spin an interesting yarn. Sometimes the set is sparse; other times it is clearer where exactly a scene is. And there is something for pretty much everyone in this epic production, which inevitably draws some parallels with Angels in America because of its forays into the political affairs of the United States (perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the characters in The Inheritance are pro-Hillary) as well as its deep and meaningful exploration and exposition of the Aids crisis in the 1980s. I hasten to add that the two plays are considerably different, aside from being long with a capital L – to the point that I am not in a position to say which is better, not because I wish to sit on the fence, but because the differences between the two are large enough that a comparison is, frankly, futile.
When Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey) tells Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) and his friends that he is a Republican, the reaction is predictable but nonetheless theatrically brilliant. Wilcox, a property developer, has lost Walter (Paul Hilton), his partner. Walter wanted Glass to inherit (hence the show’s title) a house that was previously used by him (that is, Walter) as a sort of hospice for Aids victims. But there are other factors to be considered, and the play comes back repeatedly to the question of whether the place really can belong to Glass after all.
There are other inferences to the term ‘inheritance’, including the idea that some of it was lost to the generation of gay people that came after the worst effects of the Aids crisis had occurred. These people did not always have proverbial fathers to look up to in the gay community, because so many of them passed away before their time. Interspersed with the storylines (yes, plural) are discussions and debates about, for example, the closure of ‘gay bars’ – does this really mean that every bar is a ‘safe space’ where gays can gather without being subjected to verbal abuse?
EM Forster (1879-1970) is referenced time and again, and the play is clearly influenced by Forster’s novel Howard’s End; it even has a version of Forster, called Morgan (also Paul Hilton) contributing to proceedings. Samuel H Levine as both Adam, the star of Darling’s Broadway play, and Leo, a sex worker, puts in a compelling performance. But as Vanessa Redgrave’s Margaret is the only female character in the whole play, and even she doesn’t appear until quite late on in Part Two, one could, if one did not know any better, think that these gay characters, either by default or by design, don’t, generally speaking, interact with women. They probably do, but why don’t we see them? It’s not as if there isn’t time for inclusion.
The production varies in pace, as it should (hours of high-octane intensity would really be quite exhausting), though it is never sluggish, and the narration seems to be shared between ten ‘young men’, all numbered in the cast list. And when Tucker (Hubert Burton), talks about burning his canvasses because he believes them to be “meaningless”, it brought to mind the recent story of a Banksy painting that somehow got shredded after it was auctioned at Sotheby’s. Two parts, three hours fifteen minutes each – it’s a big ask, but it’s a rewarding one.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A generation after the peak of the AIDs crisis, what is it like to be a young gay man in New York? How many words are there now for pain and for love? Matthew Lopez’s major new two-part play explores profound themes through the turbulent and often hilarious experiences of a group of young, ambitious New Yorkers. What is the legacy left to them by previous generations? What do they owe the future and each other?
Spanning generations and many interlinking lives, The Inheritance brilliantly transposes EM Forster’s novel ‘Howards End’ to 21st century New York.
Playing across two parts, which can be seen either in one day or across two evenings, Matthew Lopez’s epic new play is directed by Stephen Daldry with set and costumes by Bob Crowley, lighting by Jon Clark, sound by Paul Arditti & Chris Reid, music by Paul Englishby, UK Casting by Julia Horan CDG and US Casting by Jordan Thaler CSA & Heidi Griffiths CSA.
By Matthew Lopez
Director Stephen Daldry
Design Bob Crowley
Lighting Jon Clark
Sound Paul Arditti & Chris Reid
Music Paul English
UK Casting Julia Horan CDG
US Casting Jordan Thaler CSA & Heidi Griffiths CSA
Executive Producer David Lan
Nöel Coward Theatre
St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AP
First performance: Friday 21st September 2018
Opening Night: Saturday 13th October 2018
Final Performance: Saturday 5th January 2019