Noël Coward Theatre, London – until 19 January 2018
After a scorching run at the Young Vic, Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance makes a well-deserved transfer into the West End. And though the seats (and some of the sightlines) at the Noël Coward Theatre make it a little bit more of an endurance test over its near-seven hours of drama, the experience remains a truly soul-enhancing, life-enrichening thing.
All but one of the original cast have returned (Jack Riddiford stepping in for Luke Thallon who has turned to alternative Cock in Chichester), but none of the production’s magic has been lost. Indeed, for those who have seen it before, it is almost better second time round as the exquisite agony of knowing what is to come deepens so much of the first part.
The play is several kinds of thing all at once. A portrait of contemporary gay life in a post-AIDS New York, a love story to those who lived through the height of the AIDS epidemic, an examination of the way in which we tell stories about ourselves, a meta-theatrical twist on EM Forster’s Howards End. And it delivers on all front, taking its time to linger fully over details, allow complex debates to really play out, to let the magnitude of it all slowly sink in.
And though it is led by exceptional lead performances from Kyle Soller and Andrew Burnap as Eric and Toby, Stephen Daldry’s production shines because of its ensemble. Everyone gets to dip in and out of the story as any number of supporting characters or make suggestions as to what happens next from the sidelines, you really sense that this is a group of gay men feeling able to write their own history.
And over the many hours, more highlights than you can remember rise and fall into view. Paul Hilton’s sensational dual turn in Part One, the surprises of Bob Crowley’s design, the many utterances of “but what Toby actually said was”, Vanessa Redgrave giving her Cher in Mamma Mia 2 entrance deep into the final act, the heartbreak, the humour, the heart of the whole damn thing.
It was funnier than I remembered, so much whipsharp comedy layered in to so much of the discourse. And humane too, being able to delve so deeply and at such length into characters is a real rarity on the stage, and a privilege too – there’s more here than its superficially white, middle-class, gym-toned exterior might suggest. Plus, that Part One finale really is a most perfect moment of theatre. I really couldn’t recommend it more.
Running time: each part runs at about 3 hours 20 minutes (with 2 intervals each)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Inheritance Parts One and Two are booking in rep at the Noël Coward Theatre until 19th January
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