You absolutely need to set aside a day to go and see The Inheritance. Set in modern New York, this two-part play by Matthew Lopez tells the stories of three generations of gay men, each benefitting from a greater degree of liberation than the last. Lopez credits E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End with having inspired the play, and Forster’s presence and inspiring effect on the youngest generation – particularly Eric, Toby and Leo – is felt throughout in the character of Morgan, who embodies the author. The play is about histories and legacy in the gay community, which was forced for so long, as Forster was, to keep its history silent. A perfect balance between sharp comedy and truly gut-wrenching moments, it involves us on an intimate level with a small community of friends. The sweep of 20th and 21st-century gay history forms the backdrop.
The stage is wonderfully simple – a pristine, beigey platform with a lower ledge running around it, on which the actors sit watching before they jump on stage and take on their characters, throwing us with them into the story. It is a portrait of the break-up of Eric and Toby, and their subsequent liaisons and heartaches. They interact on a painful and personal level with the relationship between the older Walter and Henry – a couple who struggle to come to terms with the devastating after-effects of the 80s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
While the monologues of the main characters’ express acute loneliness, Morgan’s presence unites them through the legacy of Forster’s fiction, contributing the reassurance that someone has previously experienced similar heart-break and solitude. The play is told in the style of a novel as the characters narrate their stories in the third person – a style which fades as they each take control of their own lives and legacies, drawing inspiration from their imagined versions of Morgan’s mentorship.
The narratives of the individual men interweave seamlessly, told by a chorus of actors whose movement and delivery are directed to perfection by Stephen Daldry. Kyle Soller brings touching sensitivity to Eric’s generous and emotive role, contrasted with the never-failing energy and depth of Andrew Burnap’s Toby. Meanwhile John Benjamin Hickey and Paul Hilton poignantly capture the pain of living as gay men in 80s America, watching as their friends die around them. Simultaneously, Hilton fully embraces the role of Morgan, deftly providing the mentor who connects all those men with one another and their community’s past. Samuel H. Levine brilliantly juggles the roles of Adam, a privileged actor, and Leo, a prostitute – highlighting what might have been for both characters. Vanessa Redgrave, finally, gave an astonishing performance as Margaret, the mother of a deceased victim of HIV, providing a harrowing account of the effects of the epidemic, not only on the victims but on their loved ones as well.
The lighting and staging are beautifully understated, with an elegantly matched soundtrack. This simplicity allows the acting and stories to shine, adding poignancy to special moments such as cherry blossoms falling from the ceiling when Eric first visits the house in which Walter cared for men dying of HIV/AIDS and stands under the tree with which Walter associated so much emotion.
Convincingly bringing three generations of gay men to life and portraying the impact of hatred, prejudice and the tragic consequences of ‘the plague’ is a momentous achievement. Watching it is a correspondingly epic undertaking. A short review cannot do it justice – you simply must go and experience it for yourself.
- By Matthew Lopez
- Directed by Stephen Daldry
- Cast includes: Andrew Burlap, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Vanessa Redgrave, Kyle Soller
- The Young Vic
- Until 19th May 2018
- Monday - Saturday: 19:15. Matinees: Wednesday & Saturday 13:15.