A review round-up for The Inheritance at the Young Vic Theatre.

Matthew Lopez’s (The Whipping Man, The Newsroom) epic two part New York gay-life play, has opened at London’s Young Vic Theatre.

Inspired by E. M. Forster’s novel Howards End, this panoramic account of male gay life whirls through marriages, breakups, betrayals, highs and lows in present-day New York, but also looks back to closeted existences and the threats – social, physical and psychological – visited by Aids.

Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Jungle, An Inspector Calls, Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader) The Inheritance is winning rave reviews from critics for its exploration of gay life, but also its cast which includes Andrew Burnap, John Benjamin Hickey, Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller and Vanessa Redgrave.

At seven hours, seen on one day or on separate days, it’s long but definitely one to catch.

Read a round-up of reviews below.

The Observer, ★★★★

”Matthew Lopez’s seven-hour, Forster-inspired epic of New York gay life rewards patience.”

The length of The Inheritance is not just a challenge to prostates and concentration: it’s a declaration.

Stephen Daldry’s production is masterly, spiced with mischief and teeming with incident, even before anyone has spoken a word.

There is an imposing appearance by Vanessa Redgrave, got up in green like an ancient goddess, the only woman in the play. It is one of the witticisms of the production that she is herself a legacy – from the 1992 movie of Howards End. Inheritance is embodied as well as explained.”

Susannah Clapp, The Observer

The Independent, ★★★★

”Extraordinarily accomplished acting.

There are many different tones in the play which the production (lit with poetic depth by Jon Clark) captures beautifully. The haunting welcome – both matter-of-fact and wondrous – that Eric receives when he first visits the house takes you to a realm beyond tears. There are vivid, caustic debates over, say, Henry’s contention that the response of gay men to the Aids crisis was a classic case of conservatism in action. The acting of the American-British cast is extraordinarily accomplished.

Samuel H Levine flips arrestingly between rising thesp Adam and his foundering lookalike, the rent boy Leo, whose desperation is indelible. For my taste, there was bit too much of EM Forster who wanders in and out as mentor to these modern boys and dispenser of much sage advice about the transmission of history and need to be open to heartache. There is a character in the piece called Tucker who describes a “faux artist” because although his works are proficient, he deliberately doesn’t mean them. Can you, I wonder, mean your art too much? There was the odd cloying moment in the Forster sections that gave me pause. However Paul Hilton (who doubles as EM Forster and Walter) could not be more moving in his humane, modest encouragement. His performance is one of the triumphs in an event much to be recommended.”

Paul Taylor, The Independent

The Telegraph, ★★★★★

”Perhaps the most important American play of the century so far.

To watch The Inheritance is to pass from engaged but detached interest into a realm of total absorption before arriving at a state of emotionally shattered but elated awe.

The performances are (to a man in this almost all-male affair_ exquisitely truthful – doubly so from Samuel H Levine as the contrastingly preyed-upon Adam and Leo.

Part One ends with the heart-rending sight of young men in their prime – the ghosts of those who died after contracting Aids – clustering in silent amity around Eric.

Part Two holds back Redgrave’s achingly frail appearance like a final release yet shows this silver-haired mother, still mourning the gay son she spurned and saw dying (“his voice no more than a croak”), as having found almost none herself.

Star ratings are almost beside the point when confronted by work of this magnitude but hell, yeah, five.”

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

Financial Times [paywall], ★★

“Matthew Lopez’s sprawling work about the contemporary American gay community has little of any substance to say.

It’s an impressive piece of work, but almost completely empty.

Stephen Daldry marshals the cast with detail and sensitivity, led by Kyle Soller in fine form as Eric Glass, the man cheated out of the legacy of the house which (like Forster’s Howards End) symbolises hope and compassion throughout the tale. All in all, though, this is far too much time spent saying far too little of any substance.
David Lan’s just-ended artistic directorship of the Young Vic was magnificent in all kinds of ways, but this piece of legacy programming threatens to conclude his time here on a down beat.”

Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

Evening Standard,★★★★★

“Matthew Lopez’s witty, frequently outrageous and deeply moving play has a startling ambition.

The Inheritance has a bruising seriousness and salty charisma that are very much its own. A big-hearted tribute to the power of storytelling, it’s also the sort of play that invites you to think afresh about what it means to lead a purposeful life.”

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

Daily Mail, ★★★★

”Seven hours! But with its soap-opera plot and some phenomenally good acting, the show whizzes along.

The Inheritance has its failings. It is ludicrously long and many minor characters are interchangeable off-the-peg, high-grade, hyperventilating East Coast wiseacres. The ups and downs of the story are hard to believe, as is the plot device of Toby falling for a rent boy who looks identical to Adam. There is also a problem with extended, explicit sexual content. A certain amount may be justifiable to portray the hedonism of these characters but after a short while it becomes tittery, ostentatious, pornographic.”

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

Time Out, ★★★★

“Stephen Daldry directs this gripping, glib and often brilliant two-parter about New York’s post-Aids gay generation.”

‘The Inheritance’ is a flawed and messy play in many respects. But it is, nonetheless, a pretty monumental achievement.

A reasonably faithful, albeit wantonly postmodern, adaptation of EM Forster’s ‘Howards End’.

The Inheritance’ is a cracking story, enjoyably (re)told, and in many ways the metatextual stuff is less there to fuck with our heads, more thrown in for a knowing chuckle.

Despite being very long, it’s a jolly good watch. And yet Lopez does pull something transcendent out of the bag, a vision of a long, sad tragedy, of an inheritance lost, but also a firm belief that we can learn from what remains.”

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

The Inheritance is booking until 19 May at the Young Vic, London