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Phil Willmott

Review: THE INHERITANCE at the Noel Coward Theatre

The Inheritance - Part II The West End now has TWO era defining productions in what’s shaping up to be a golden year for London Theatre. And both shows opened in the last ten days!

You can read about Marianne Elliot’s triumphant re-conception of Stephen Sondheim’s musical COMPANY here but if plays are your thing you really need to catch THE INHERITANCE at the Noel Coward Theatre.

There was some concern about whether the relative intimacy of the original Young Vic production would be lost in the cavernous West End venue but as Alex Benjamin assured us in his preview report the power of the piece is undiminished.

Having now seen both productions I'm also happy to confirm that the piece loses none of its original impact and everything I originally admired about its Off-West End try-out is even more rewarding the second time around.

American import Samuel. H. Levine still gives one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen in the dual role of an actor on the rise and a rent boy succumbing to the depths of despair. But the entire cast is outstanding.

As I previously reported this is an epic production of what will be regarded as a landmark piece of gay drama, by young New Yorker Matthew Lopez.

The show opens with a stage full of young, gay writers. Struggling with writers block they invoke the ghost of Edwardian novelist E.M. Forster. He guides them through the process of organising their story and their legacy as modern gay men. He uses as a framework, not the narrative of his own man-on-man romance MAURICE (although it’s referred to a lot) but events from his masterpiece HOWARD’S END.

Eric, is our central figure and during the course of the piece we discover how he loses one home, lover and purpose in his twenties to find another, and his true identity, in his forties.

As watchable, entertaining and thought provoking as a binge on the finest TV drama box set

In Stephen Daldry’s elegant production, on Bob Crowley’s beautiful, simple and evocative set it feels, and is, epic; lasting seven-hours and performed in two parts, over two performances. However with intervals every hour or so it’s also as watchable, entertaining and thought provoking as a binge on the finest TV drama box set.

Along the way the exceptionally well drawn and engaging satellite characters include his audacious first boyfriend (a playwright, hot-wired to self-destruct) the young actor they take under their wing and who grows to eclipse them, a dying rent boy, political activists, and an older couple who separately effect Eric in fundamental ways. There’s also ghosts, oh and if that weren't enough, a long cameo from Vanessa Redgrave.

There’s engaging and nuanced dialogue about pretty much every aspect of being young, beautiful, gay and privileged including guilt about being exactly that. Equally satisfying as comedy, drama and debate, highlights for me included a party scene in which liberals discover they’ve a republican in their midst and a hilarious set piece wedding with the gasp-out-loud HOWARD'S END revelation still packing a punch.

I cannot remember the last time I so wanted an interval to end so I could re-engage with characters and their story

The climax of Play One is heart stoppingly lovely, the directing, production and acting is spare, un-indulgent and top class and I cannot remember the last time I so wanted an interval to end so I could re-engage with characters and their story.

Don’t miss it!

The Inheritance Part I The Inheritance Part II