Theatre Review: The Inheritance, Noel Coward Theatre, West End
- Credit: Archant
Well acted seven hour epic of gay life in New York takes too long to say too little but is an engaging watch
Spanning two nights, four intervals and seven hours The Inheritance as a West End experience is certainly an investment of time and money.
Whether it warrants it may depend upon your circumstances; Stephen Daldry’s masterfully fluid production never fails to engage, but for me it wasn’t the transcendental experience that others have claimed.
Not only could it do with a trim, but its focus on the lives and loves of white, buff, cultured gay male New Yorkers didn’t involve me as much as say, the white buff cultured etc on my right who was audibly moved throughout.
Matthew Lopez loosely transposes EM Forster’s Howard’s End to the 21st Century, to explore the past 40 years of gay, male experience, from civil rights to the AIDS crisis, and by extension what it means to be gay today.
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It’s been compared to the similarly epic Angels in America, yet lacks the political depth and imaginitive scope of Tony Kushner’s 90s drama.
Still, with its themes of inheritance, legacy and the debt we owe our forbears, this finely-acted drama weaves it’s intimate, unshowy spell on you, like a Scandi box set.
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Daldry nimbly directs the narration and exposition-heavy drama with a chorus of barefoot young men on an unadorned raised stage. (The lone female arrives six hours in and it’s something of a cameo as she talks of healing male suffering)
They enlist the figure of Forster himself to help tell their story, and, with his insight into a past forced into a lifelong closet by punitive homophobic laws, Paul Hilton’s buttoned up Morgan poignantly looks on in wonder at the privileges and freedom they enjoy.
Lopez writes with a quick wit and a sharp eye for the cultural detail of a world where activist Eric Glass sees his family home in a rent controlled apartment come under threat, just as his relationship with selfish, vain Toby falls apart.
After writing a sucessful play, Toby becomes emboiled with both the wealthy lead actor Adam and a poverty stricken rent boy Leo, while Eric finds solace in older wealthy capitalist Henry Wilcox.
As the Margaret Schlegel character, Eric’s decency and compulsion to connect is counterpointed by Andrew Burnap’s Toby, who embodies the self-destructive privilege of his generation.
It is left to Henry’s dying partner the achingly fragile Walter (Hilton again) to remind Eric of the lost generation of young men he cared for in his beloved house in upstate New York.
Trump is elected, there’s a combustible gay marriage, and a discussion aroud sexuality and politics, but it is the ghosts that haunt these interlinking melodramas that land more than anything else.