Following a critically acclaimed sell-out run at The Young Vic, Matthew Lopez’s sprawling epic The Inheritance makes its transfer to The Noel Coward Theatre. And, how lucky we are it has made it to the West End, because this seven-hour masterpiece directed by Stephen Daldry is a play which defines a generation, and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
Lopez has essentially re-tooled E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, transporting the action to modern day New York and a generation still reeling from the AIDS crisis. Forster (Paul Hilton) himself guides the story, as the actors on stage workshop the story, as if a creative writing class in full flow. Eventually this gives way to the main narrative as Forster, both shocked and satisfied by the progress of gay men, steps aside.
Kind and amiable Eric Glass lives in the family Manhattan home, it’s perfect in every way, filled with memories, close to the park and rent controlled. There’s a sense that Eric doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, but in the hands of Kyle Soller it doesn’t feel twee nor inauthentic. His boyfriend is aspiring playwright Toby Darling, and the polar opposite to Eric in every way, and you get the distinct impression he cares more for the apartment than Eric. Andrew Burnap plays the role fantastically well, overflowing with energy and passion.
The title refers to several different parts of the play, but in pure narrative form Eric Glass inherits a house that was once used to care for men in their final days, as AIDS ravaged their bodies. Though he is unaware of his inheritance as Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey) keeps it from him
The end of the first part is a theatrical masterpiece, very simply done but to stunning effect. To describe it in any detail would be a massive spoiler, and sure to wreck the experience for anyone seeing it afresh. I will only say that I sat opened mouth in disbelief. The second part, which in my opinion is best seen on the same day, doesn’t have quite the same moment of awe, unless you count the appearance of Vanessa Redgrave playing a grieving mother who lost her son to aids, and has never quite forgiven herself.
Samuel H. Levine gives perhaps one of the most accomplished on-stage performances of this decade. Shifting between a multi-millionaire wannabe actor named Adam and his doppelganger Leo, a down and out rent boy, his ability to segment the two characters is astounding. His monologue as Adam, concerning a Prague bath house, is terrifyingly moving, even more so when Leo experiences a similar situation. As the lives of the two characters converge, Levine ramps up the emotional attack leaving his audience utterly spellbound.
Bob Crowley’s design sees a large platform, often used as a giant table, rise and fall. There is little else in the way of set, and nothing else is needed because the story and the richness of the characters says everything that needs to be said.
By the time we reach the conclusion of part two, you immediately begin to feel a sense of loss, because over the last seven plus hours we have shared these men’s lives, experiencing their ups and downs right there alongside them. It’s an incredibly moving experience, opening up a discussion on the effects of AIDS and how it has changed the world. The Inheritance is possibly the most influential play to be seen in The West End for decades, and will be discussed, remembered and lauded for many decades to come.