The West End transfer of Matthew Lopez’s modern masterpiece, The Inheritance, took place on Saturday at the Noël Coward Theatre, with celebrities and VIPs joining the audience to hunker down for nearly seven hours of epic storytelling.
This phenomenal play, which sold-out when it first opened at London’s Young Vic earlier this year, is the ticket that everyone wants.
And no wonder. This AIDs postscript to the acclaimed Angels In America, that uses EM Forster’s Howards End as a framework, is one of the most moving, beautifully written and staged shows that I’ve seen.
With a pan-American cast of 13, The Inheritance is an inventive, enthralling, funny, fresh, and bold gay epic.
You will be laughing, crying and, finally, comprehending what it means to be a gay man living “post plague” and under Trump’s administration.
Stephen Daldry’s fluid production, which smacks of Japanese minimalism with its barefoot company and spare set design, is split into two parts of three hours and 15 minutes each, and the time just flies by.
You become so wrapped up in the lives of Liberal civil rights lawyer, Eric Glass, writer Toby Darling and the cold, distant real estate magnate, Henry Wilcox, that it’s a wrench to say goodbye at the end of the night.
It’s so clever. Lopez has picked out the bones of his favourite novel and adapted it for a male cast. The only woman, Vanessa Redgrave, who was applauded on Saturday night on her entrance, is on stage for just 30 minutes in the last act.
Part One, my favourite, opens with a group of would-be writers struggling with their work.
They look to their tutor, Paul Hilton’s dynamic Morgan Forster, for help and he sparks their imaginations with pointers in how to tell a good story.
Eric, the beating heart of the narrative, is, at the beginning is living with his boyfriend, writer Toby, in a plush rented New York apartment.
We meet their friends who jump in and out of the plot when called for (I loved Syrus Lowe’s flamboyant Tristan). They’re warm, affectionate, bitchy and biased. Everyone has an opinion and they’re not afraid to share it.
Toby (Andrew Burnap) is glamorous and arrogant, a social butterfly who is writing his first play, while Kyle Soller’s Eric is earnest and committed.
Through a chain of events Eric meets Walter (Hilton again) who has been in a 36 year relationship with billionaire Henry.
It hasn’t been easy. Henry was once married and has two sons. Both men lived through an era when homosexuality was illegal and coming out wasn’t an option.
In a story arc which will be familiar to Howards End fans, a young Walter falls in love with a house that Henry owns in the Hamptons.
It has a beautiful cherry tree, and a wild flower meadow, but Henry seems oblivious to its charms and, when Walter starts inviting sick friends to stay, the businessman refuses to return, terrified of being infected.
The house becomes Walter’s sanctuary and, later, a refuge for young men suffering in the late stages of AIDs.
I defy anyone not to be moved by Walter’s speech about advent of the disease and its terrible effect on America’s gay community. It is heart-wrenching and Hilton is exceptional, the audience hanging on his every word.
Following his death Walter leaves the house to Eric but Henry and his sons destroy the pencil-written bequest.
Part Two begins with Lopez letting loose a tirade against the president and his right-wing, radical views. Eric and his friends are raging but feel powerless to change anything.
But there’s an interesting conversation scene between the group and the older, right-wing Henry, who is unapologetic in having voted for Trump and supporting his policies.
The story moves on, following Eric’s blossoming relationship with Henry (a superbly nuanced John Benjamin Hickey), Toby’s spiralling disaster of a life as a writer, and the fortunes of a young rent boy called Leo and an aspiring actor named Adam (both beautifully played by Samuel H Levine).
The Inheritance is a sweeping, episodic, saga covering about two years in this group’s life.
I longed for more of Hilton’s Morgan Forster, who is such a major impact on the plot, yet who pretty much writes himself out of the second play.
But – and I’ll probably get vilified for this – I struggled to warm to Redgraves’ halting performance as the mother of an AIDs’ victim.
This is a truly triumphant, landmark, production whose influence will be felt for years to come.
It is incredibly powerful, hugely emotional, joyful, captivating and heartbreaking.
Soller’s terrific performance as Eric, and Burnap’s flighty Toby, are the essence of the tale.
But it is Paul Hilton’s vibrant, passionate closet gay, EM Forster, whose work profoundly affected Matthew Lopez as a young man, coupled with his impressive turn as the ailing Walter, that remains with me long after leaving an unforgettable day at the theatre.
The Inheritance runs at the Noel Coward Theatre until January 19.
Matthew Lopez’s modern masterpiece is incredibly powerful, hugely emotional, joyful, captivating and heartbreaking. A triumphant and momentous production.