The Inheritance Review – 5/5*
A guest blog by Susy Brett
The West End transfer of Matthew Lopez’s groundbreaking new two-part play, The Inheritance, is an instant classic at the Noël Coward Theatre.
We had been provided these tickets complimentary by Seatplan. You can find more information about this and other shows by clicking here.
The Inheritance is simultaneously an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic Howard’s End, a cross-generational depiction of modern gay life in the wake of the AIDs epidemic and a deconstruction of the art of storytelling. It is brought to life in all of its magnificence by celebrated theatre and film director Stephen Daldry, and includes a cast of West End newcomers, household names and the legendary Vanesssa Redgrave in a powerful supporting role.
Few experiences at the theatre that can be described as transcendent, but The Inheritance is surely this. In what might certainly be the new play of the year (and definitely deserves to be named such in the next award season), theatregoers are heard audibly sobbing throughout two three-and-a-half hour plays that ought to feel like a slog but instead are moving and powerful experiences.
That’s not to say this play is not funny. Amongst many other plaudits, it is wickedly funny. There is a natural grace and balance to the storytelling, which means nearly four hours of stage time per play feels like it breezes by. The pacing is masterful. At one moment, one is breathless with laughter at a chaotic depiction of soap opera-esque wedding. The next, sobbing with the pain of a line delivered with such agony it cuts straight to the heart of the audience. The Inheritance puts its audience on the edge, commanding their feelings in a way that feels earnest and worthy rather than cheap.
Naturally, politics plays a huge role in The Inheritance, and one of Lopez’s credits must be his ability to include food for thought on all shades of an argument. The two halves of The Inheritance are perfect parallels of one another, outlining how different circumstances shape our decision-making and lives. Group debates amongst characters are real life conversations, plucked from the political landscape and summarised for an audience. Its primary discussion, however, is how the shadow of the 1980s AIDs epidemic continues to play a role in the lives of present day gay men.
The Inheritance favours understated staging, which puts its characters – rather than cheap tricks – at the heart of the story. Characters sit around a raised stage, watching, reacting and contributing to the action that takes place upon it. At times, members of the cast and ensemble find their way into the stalls – making the most of the space at the Noel Coward despite limitations that did not exist at the Young Vic. Doing so fosters a sense of involvement in the story for the audience, pulling them together for moments of both joy and heartbreak.
The power and thoughtfulness of the script is brought to life by a sensational cast capable of delivering each nuance, each joke and each expulsion of raw emotion with integrity. Kyle Soller has effortless charm and relatability as Eric, meaning his pain cuts deep into the audience. Andrew Burnap has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as the sarcastic and deeply troubled Toby, while Samuel H. Levine excels at the task of bringing two complex characters (in many ways mirror images of one another) to life, climaxing with an impressive two-hander with himself. Of the older generation, John Benjamin Hickey presents a nuanced portrayal of a character that is not usually deemed sympathetic in theatre. Lastly, there is Paul Hilton, who in act one has the mammoth task of delivering a monologue that is charming, touching and devastating in a twenty-minute period. Vanessa Redgrave also plays a small but significant part in the second play, and is as magnetic as ever.
Contributing to the impact of play is a playful, emotional score that deserves life outside of The Inheritance. Like the staging, it is understated, but creates atmosphere that fills the auditorium – uniting theatregoers in their pain. Similarly, the lighting of the piece is a technical achievement, capturing and creating beautiful moments of nostalgia, heartache and drug-addled intensity.
The Inheritance is a spectacular piece of theatre and a real achievement for all those involved in its development. It captures the hearts of its audience, transporting them to another world for a breathtaking eight hours of theatre. It is one of those mind-altering experiences that will not leave the moment one exits the theatre, but will linger in thought for weeks, months, or perhaps years.
The Inheritance Parts One and Two runs at the Noël Coward Theatre until January 19.