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BWW Review: THE INHERITANCE, Young Vic

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BWW Review: THE INHERITANCE, Young Vic BWW Review: THE INHERITANCE, Young Vic Don't go to the Young Vic for the next couple of months if you're not in it for the long haul. The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez's witty, brutal two-part epic exploring the lives of gay men in New York clocks in at just short of seven hours in total (thankfully with two intervals in each part to stretch out your steadily compressing vertebrae).

Health warnings aside, if you do go and see this, you're (mostly) in for a theatrical treat.

Lopez has taken as his basis E. M. Forster's 1910 novel Howard's End, adapting it to feature exclusively gay male relationships. The telling of the tale is periodically guided by an onstage representation of Forster himself (Paul Hilton).

This takes various forms: initially through the artifice of helping students to improve their writing, then gawping at their liberated modern ways, and later appearing to them in dreams. It's a largely satisfying and well-executed recognition by Lopez of the significance to him of Forster's work.

The central characters are political NGO worker Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) and his writer and playwright partner Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap). They live together in a spacious New York apartment they'd never be able to afford but for a rent control agreement inherited from Eric's grandmother (just the first of many inheritances alluded to in the play).

Their friendship group is a bunch of young, exclusively gay, exclusively male professionals, all about Sunday brunches, sass and sarcasm, and horrified at the turn that has taken America into the Trump era.

Permeating this group, however, are an older couple of 36 years, Walter (also played by Paul Hilton) and Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey). The former owns a splendid colonial style mansion in upstate New York with a tragic history of its own, the latter is a multi-millionaire property developer.

Eric is open-hearted, loving and stronger than he knows, and Soller's portrayal embodies all of these qualities in spades. Though his fortunes may wax and wane, he's the one you'll find yourself rooting for.

Toby, on the other hand, is almost limitlessly narcissistic and heartless, yet Burnap imbues him with exactly the right amount of over-the-top bravado for you to want him to be on stage regardless of how much you might dislike him.

It's no wonder really that Eric and Toby's mismatched relationship eventually disintegrates, and their interwoven stories move on through love and lust, success and failure, marriage, addiction and Broadway debuts, via an utterly heart-wrenching account of the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the compassion shown by Walter towards so many men at the end of their lives.

Although this is pretty much an exclusively male and male-themed production, I do feel compelled to give a nod to its sole female, none other than Vanessa Redgrave, who provides a calm, almost soothing presence towards the end of Part Two as the play nears its conclusion.

The staging is for the most part stripped back - Bob Crowley's set is a sort of giant dining table surrounded by bench seating, with those actors not involved in any given scene often sitting watching the action playing out on the 'table', and reacting as if part of the audience. Lighting and a few reveals of additional set elements effectively amplify the changes in mood and setting.

Stephen Daldry's direction helps to keep the action moving apace in spite of the plays' lengths, and a couple of occasionally slightly jarring diversions. One scene where Eric's friends berate Henry for his Republicanism springs to mind, feeling to me like Lopez slightly sledgehammering home his own opinion without quite finessing it enough to trip naturally off the characters' tongues.

Putting that aside, however, along with a few slightly too earnest bits of dialogue, Lopez's script mostly sparkles: it's by turns sharp, hilarious and truly affecting. To be honest if you find nothing here to make the tears fall, it might be time to question your humanity.

There are some nice moments too for fans of the metatheatrical - at one point Toby's agent, horrified at the tome-like new manuscript he's produced, points out that there's no way you can ask an audience to sit still for long enough to watch it all.

Much like the characters, lives and history depicted within it, The Inheritance isn't perfect. But few things are, after all - and for much of the time, it comes pretty close.

The Inheritance at the Young Vic Theatre until 19 May

Photo credit: Simon Annand


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