“Arguably the best play this year!”
Earlier this year, the Young Vic presented the world premiere of The Inheritance – a two-part, seven hour play by American playwright, Matthew Lopez about a group of gay men in New York and their lives but, under the surface, we see a community still dealing with the aftermath of the AIDS Crisis from the generation before. The play has received critical acclaim and has now transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End.
What seems to be a mix of ‘Angels in America’ and ‘Howard’s End’ (the latter is credited as the script’s inspiration), Lopez’s play mainly focuses on the relationship of Eric Glass and Toby Darling (played by Kyle Soller and Andrew Burlap respectively). After receiving the news that his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side will soon no longer be his, Eric decides to keep the news from Toby – who he worries will leave him. Toby is in the middle of re-writing his first novel for the stage and depends on the financial and emotional stability that Eric provides. Soon, the couple meet young, attractive, budding actor Adam (Samuel H Levine) who causes friction between them. Alongside Eric’s growing friendship with Walter (Paul Hilton), a fascinating older gay man with a house that has tremendous history, things start to develop in ways that Eric and Toby could never imagine.
Bob Crowley’s set is simple but effective. A large communal table that all the actors sit along as it raises and lowers throughout. The play starts with a group of writers unable to find a way to start “their story” and they have the assistance of E M Forster himself (also played by Hilton). The story starts as a homage to the opening line in Howard’s End (“One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister”), “One may as well begin with Toby’s voicemails”. Other plot points such as property, finance, politics and community reflect strongly with those in Howard’s End.
Whilst the first part of this two-part play breaks the characters down, the second starts to build them back anew. We close the first part on Eric in Walter’s house, outside of the city, where Walter took his friends to spend their final days and look after them during the AIDS epidemic. The stage is then flooded by ‘ghosts’ of those men and it is one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have seen in recent years.
We are soon introduced to other complex characters such as Walter’s husband, Henry (John Benjamin Hickey), a billionaire republican with viewpoints that challenges those of Eric’s peers. This involves a feisty debate in the second act regarding the 2016 presidential election that showcases Lopez’s impeccable writing talent.
With the subject matter and length, The Inheritance seems like a heavy commitment even for the avid theatre goer. But Lopez’s ability, along with Stephen Daldry’s masterful direction, to craft scenes and finish acts is similar to those of a television boxset. You just want to keep watching! Hilton’s performances are a highlight and Vanessa Redgrave, who shows up very near the end, provides another beautiful, insightful performance as the only female in this astonishing cast.
The Inheritance was a clear choice to transfer to the West End and now it can be seen at the Noel Coward Theatre, for a limited period, until January 19. The play is touching, emotional and frequently hilarious. Many would ask if this two-part show justifies its length. Perhaps not, but you won’t be mad at the time spent watching arguably the best play this year!
Photos: Tristram Kenton