Following proudly in the footsteps of Tony Kushner's 'Angels in America', this epic two-part play explores the lives, loves, hopes, struggles and dreams of a gay couple and their friends living in New York in the lead up to the 2016 election.
As the popularity of streaming service boxsets continues to rise, many of us clearly have an appetite for long, slow and complex storytelling. Clocking in at over 7 hours, 'The Inheritance', directed by Stephen Daldry, fits this bill in theatrical style. There is something hugely special and enriching about committing to spend so much time getting to know a bunch of strangers. Especially when its worth the investment, as this most definitely is.
Writer Matthew Lopez's early obsession with E M Forster's novel 'Howards End' provided the inspiration for this play. What began as a straightforward adaptation became a meditation on the novel's themes of family, class, love and power from the perspective of a contemporary gay man. The result is a powerful and emotionally engaging story which explores sexual politics, identity and the importance of storytelling in all of our lives. It's compelling theatre, beautifully realised on a largely bare stage which places all of the emphasis on the audience to concentrate, listen and follow the lives of the characters.
We meet, and quickly become attached to, central couple Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap) and Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) as they are guided by a reincarnated E M Forster (Paul Hilton) to tell their story. These three central performances were impressive and energetic, supported by an equally impressive ensemble. Samuel Levine, doubling as aspiring actor Adam and rent boy Leo, was deeply moving. The action moved seamlessly backwards and forwards in time, spanning generations and slowly piecing together a complex puzzle of interconnected lives.
As Lopez writes, the story of gay men cannot be told without reference to AIDS. The spectre of what some termed 'the gay plague' is ever-present in the lives of the characters we follow. In 1981 the New York Times reported that 'Doctors in New York and California have diagnosed among homosexual men 41 cases of a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer.' We all know what happened next as it quickly became apparent that the world was facing a new and unknown virus. By 1984, AIDS was being reported in over 50 countries and had claimed thousands of lives. It might seem like ancient history for generations of young gay men now but thankfully the story is still being told. Vanessa Redgrave's appearance towards the end of Part Two as the mother of a son lost to AIDS was devastating; her story of regret and commitment to atone for her prejudice dealt a palpable emotional blow to the final-night audience.
Perhaps what made the storytelling so powerful was the underlying generosity of the writing. Despite its sprawling length it never felt laboured. It was poetic. Rich. Layered. Full of the 'greyness' and complexity which characterises all human beings when they are truly known and shown. No 'black and white' pat conclusions here. And it placed literature and stories at the heart of the human experience in a deeply satisfying way. A powerful, emotionally engaging, enriching and ultimately life-affirming full day in the theatre.