Noël Coward Theatre
Reviewed – 13th October 2018
“Seeing a play on the West End that so unashamedly and honestly tackles gay male relationships (sexual and otherwise) feels in itself a remarkable achievement”
Epic in almost every sense of the word, ‘The Inheritance’, now enjoying a West End transfer after a sell-out run at the Young Vic, demands seven inspiring, moving, riveting hours to tell a story about how stories are shaped, and how they in turn shape those who listen to them.
A group of men are trying to tell their life stories but need help. Enter E. M. Forster, whose ‘Howards End’ forms the basis of Matthew Lopez’s ‘The Inheritance’, to help the boys along. Expertly played by Paul Hilton, ‘Morgan’ – with the help of the cast – becomes our narrator, introducing us to Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap) and Eric Glass (Kyle Soller), whose rocky relationship the play centres around. Taking place almost entirely in Manhattan, New York, the couple face eviction, jealousies, successes and failures, all the while embracing and reflecting upon the lives of gay men over the last hundred years with each other and the group of friends that surrounds them.
At its core, Lopez has woven an intoxicating tapestry of a show that demonstrates the problematic importance of legacy and community, especially for gay men today. We hear lots of stories. How these stories come together is the nature of ‘inheritance’. How do we learn how to be gay men? From each other? And what happens when that community of exchange breaks down? Drawing on the emotional devastation of the late-eighties/early-nineties AIDS crisis, Lopez suggests the trauma of one generation should be the next one’s inspiration.
Bob Crowley’s sparse design is gorgeously simple, and along with Stephen Daldry’s astute direction, exposes the theatricality of the endeavour, whilst giving the cast plenty of space to play. The often cumbersome narrative elements to the play are expertly handled by the cast and director, who places his actors almost constantly on stage, listening, commenting and waiting for their turn. The need to flip on a dime from exposition to ‘scene’ is wittily and effectively handled by the cast at large. Burnap is mesmerising in his performance as Toby Darling, larger than life, hilarious, yet always hinting at a dark past, the reveal of which the audience really has a long wait for. Kyle Soller is equally courageous in his performance, able to be sentimental without parody and believably naïve all the way through to the end. Andrew Burnap and Syrus Lowe stand out in a tight, generous and incredible ensemble.
‘The Inheritance’ is essential viewing for everyone. Seeing a play on the West End that so unashamedly and honestly tackles gay male relationships (sexual and otherwise) feels in itself a remarkable achievement. I would argue Lopez could have trimmed down this story by a few hours and we wouldn’t have minded, but this emotionally stirring and inspirational production is well worth getting cramp for.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Production photography by Marc Brenner
Cast image below by Johan Persson
Noël Coward Theatre until 19th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: