mon 19/11/2018

The Inheritance, Noël Coward Theatre review - tangled knot of gay fairy-tale and reality | reviews, news & interviews

The Inheritance, Noël Coward Theatre review - tangled knot of gay fairy-tale and reality

The Inheritance, Noël Coward Theatre review - tangled knot of gay fairy-tale and reality

A virtuoso ensemble justifies this youthful baggy monster's West End transfer

A lesson with the master - standing centre: Samuel H Levine and Paul Hilton (Morgan)All images by Marc Brenner

Its roots are in an emotional truth: Matthew Lopez saw the film, then read the book, of Howards End when he was 15 and 11 years later came across Maurice. He joined the dots between an apparent period-piece offering timeless wisdom about the human condition and the gayness he found he had in common with EM Forster. Lopez's epic two-parter The Inheritance is best when it brings the connection directly to light, dramatiSing the playwright's dialogue with his beloved author, but given the predictability of parallel lives in the characters of Forster's Margaret Schlegel and Lopez's Eric Glass, needs to follow other lines of its own. And there the truth often gets lost as the plot and the ideas end up tying themselves in navel-gazing knots.

Fortunately the 12 main actors, joined by a 13th, Vanessa Redgrave, the only woman, for what in musical terms - and a three-hour musical might not be a bad idea - would be called the 11 o'clock number, make virtuoso chamber work under the direction of Stephen Daldry. It was such a bold step for the Young Vic to take on the latest gay odyssey, and this West End transfer will bring many more people to be moved and enthralled, as well as willingly manipulated by the actor's craft, where it counts.

On and around a raised rectangular space with only black around them and lighting to change the mood at first, the performers are the scenery through much of Part One. Despite a generally unobtrusive use of miking, their connection with the audience in the Noel Coward Theatre is little diminished from the original staging. The virtuoso ensemble work is deft and funny when it needs to be; a stylised, choreographic sex scene between seven-year-lovers Toby and Eric (Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller pictured below) duly dazzles and amuses, while the power of the third character in what becomes a triangle, Adam, in the narration of a Prague bath-house orgy which switches from ecstasy to horror is testament to the power of good theatre. All three American actors - Andrew Burnap as Toby, Samuel H. Levine as Adam (later Leo), and London-trained Kyle Soller as the more empathetic protagonist - are note-perfect here, though they do buckle briefly - who wouldn't? - under the melodramatic pressure that explodes at the end of Part Two's Act One.Scene from The Inheritance For much of the second half we very much miss Paul Hilton's lovely personification of an instructive, sometimes bewildered Morgan Forster; the character only makes one crucial later dream intervention, and the play comes to feel lost without his guidance. Hilton also embodies the leading older figure, Walter, whose monologue of loss and grief from the AIDS era is another highlight of sensitive dramatisation. This spectator was held back on the brink of tears by the intervention of generic mood-music - a shame when the play itself gives such a perceptive verbalisation of the magic in Ravel's String Quartet - in the otherwise magical Part One finale, where Eric encounters ghosts in The Inheritance's equivalent home to Howards End. Even so, that gentle transfiguration signs off with a promise of good things to come, not entirely realised.

We can see where we're going when Eric "does a Margaret" in his attachment to Walter's partner of 36 years Henry Wilcox - yes, even the name is the same as that of Forster's character, and this man of hard fact is a billionaire republican in a low-key performance from John Benjamin Hickey. Never quite a plausible one, in trying to justify Trump support to a group of indignant Democrats, though that's at least an attempt to engage with the opposite side. Forster's Leonard Bast pops up in the form of Adam-alike rent boy Leo, with a self-conscious symmetry in the action that relates back to the bath-house monologue. To say more would be to engage in a spoiler, though it's fine to point out Levine's technical skill in etching the brief meeting between Leo and Adam. Kyle Soller, Vanessa Redgrave and Samuel H Levine in The InheritanceRedgrave's appearance - stitching in a neat homage to the Merchant-Ivory film - delicately reinforces the admirable theme of quiet compassion just as Lopez's stagecraft has begun to buckle. The necessary salvation doesn't quite come in the relentless number of false endings; you're more likely to leave the theatre disappointed by a two-and-a-half-star denouement as you weren't by the end of the four-star Part One. Lopez is not yet at the masterful level of Tony Kushner; there's nothing to match the poetic surprises of Angels in America, since the comparison has so often been made. But he has time on his side, and meanwhile Daldry's performers, Bob Crowley's spare scenic reveals and Jon Clark's sensitive lighting make for admirable company on a long journey. To be seen, and not just for the sake of it.

Part One's gentle transfiguration signs off with a promise of good things to come, not entirely realised

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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