A production almost completely dominated by men (the only woman, Vanessa Redgrave makes a brief if emotionally charged appearance near the end), The Inheritance could easily have become a narrowed look at just an aspect of LGBT history and experience and in a way it is. Quite simply, this is, much like Angels in America before it, an epic telling the stories of gay men. There are no qualms about it. However, this isn’t a story just for gay men. Writer, Matthew Lopez involves his audience in The Inheritance’s vast history, from recurring mentions of the books of E.M Forster (who also acts as a key character) in the early twentieth century to the effects of AIDS in the 1980s: for anybody involved with, influenced or changed by such things in some form or another, you are going to be yanked into Lopez’s world.
The Inheritance focuses on Eric Glass (Kyle Scoller) and Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap), a couple who have been together for seven years. They live in a plush New York apartment Eric inherited from his grandparents. Eric, a lawyer is the more ‘serious one’, whereas Toby, a writer, is self destructive, sharp tongued and narcissistic. Their relationship is pleasant, often comically relatable and until Adam (Samuel H. Levine) enters their lives, could quite convincingly carry on as it is. After all, opposites often attract. The relationship unravels as Toby, usually so sure of his power over others is manipulated by the subtleness of Adam’s over him. Eric, like many of us and especially those born a generation after the AIDS crisis, begins to struggle with his meaning in the world, starting with his growing closeness to older friend, Walter (Paul Hilton).
So much happens and yet it never feels scatty or unfocused. The Inheritance is a whirlwind of existentialist slaps; over seven hours of busily trying to dissect every utterance, every, what feel like lessons, that are laid out for you. It’s a lot but it’s the most exciting, overwhelming reel of information you can get from one small stage. As a gay man whose parents lost friends to AIDS in the early 90s, I feel, as I’m sure many do, some tiny connection to the past; to ‘my people’. But it’s a disconnection too. There’s complacency in my freedom to be who I want; to not have my identity defined by my sexuality that I have forgotten, or perhaps just never fully learnt or realised why that is. After Walter talks about those that died around him, Eric exclaims: “I can imagine what it was like, but I cannot feel what it was like”. Is that us, Generation Y and Z? In another pivotal scene, Toby accuses Morgan – or Forster (Paul Hilton) of doing nothing, of repressing gay men more for remaining closeted all his life and for not allowing his novel, Maurice to be published until some 50 years after its writing. Could he have done more when homosexuality was punishable by law? What are people like Toby, now in their early 30s, doing for others who are still going through, in our eyes, an archaic, repressed homosexual experience?
The cast of 12 men, many of whom play multiple roles, are sublime. Levine is especially magnificent as the ‘Eve Harrington-esque’ Adam and the tortured Leo, as are Soller and Burnap who both go on poignant and demanding journeys. Hilton’s portrayal of both the iconic novelist, whose book Howard’s End is a huge influence on The Inheritance and of Walter, the biggest inspiration to us all are heartbreaking. The set too, considering its complete minimalism says much.
The comparisons, as previously made, to Angels are inevitable but somehow this feels more rounded, more contemplative and more focussed on the then, now and what the fuck’s next? This feels more relevant and more important. It asks how essential the past is, especially to the lives we are now able to lead. What can we offer the next generation? How can we educate and help then to thrive? These are questions we should all take a moment (or ten) to ponder over.
The Inheritance is playing at the Young Vic until May 19
Photo: Simon Annand