Young Vic, London – until 19 May 2018
It would be hard to imagine a play about young gay lives that speaks more eloquently to older gay men than the moving, informative and often hilarious The Inheritance at the Young Vic.
At the end of the first part which explores how the AIDS crisis unfolds among young attractive Manhattanites, some exchanged glances indicating ‘I lived through this too’. By the end of part two, many were openly weeping, such is the power and beauty of this production, possibly director Stephen Daldry’s finest work.
Author Matthew Lopez is little-known here, but he firmly puts the celebrated Tony Kushner in his box, as this is a better-written and more sophisticated play than Angels in America. It may have redefined the gay writing genre for a new generation. Lopez uses the device of a creative writing class on EM Forster to adapt the plot of Howards End so that the disused property figures large in a four-way relationship between two older and wealthier, and two younger and aspirational men whose pathways to and through the health crisis are crisscrossed with politics, drugs and inter-generational sex.
So many references resonated with me – the love of my life had a rent-controlled apartment on West End Avenue and was an early victim of AIDS. I’ve cruised the bookshop in which Toby meets Adam; saying no more, but I know what happens in the East Side Club; I’ve had a loving relationship with a 30-year age gap; I’ve encountered the exaggerated look-at-us gay couple stereotypes when I sang with New York City Gay Men’s Chorus; and I know that you can get grilled meat anywhere in Manhattan but for a ‘proper’ steak you go to Peter Luger in Brooklyn. And order the secret bacon.
After such early adventures, I escaped into dull but serial monogamy which probably saved my life, but in Part 2 of The Inheritance, so many personal journeys fall apart, but it’s a tribute to the writing that the characters are so well realised and fully-formed that you stay with them to the end, never judging even when sharing their avoidable pain.
No man in the cast is less than excellent, but Samuel H Levine is outstanding as fresh-faced Adam and hustler Leo and while the marvellous John Benjamin Hickey brings all the class and sensitivity from his 2011 Tony award-winning performance in The Normal Heart, it is Paul Hilton as the Forster-ish Morgan – like an even more erudite Jacob Rees-Mogg – and as Hickey’s valiant partner Walter who will walk away with the Olivier.
And mine will be one of the loudest cheers.
It is an all-male cast with the exception of Vanessa Redgrave who makes her eleven o’clock appearance as the mother of an infected son who failed to come to terms with it while he was alive and now wants to atone. It’s a moving device, but a less mannered or self-defining actress might have carried it without pulling focus.