Theatre Review: The Inheritance (Young Vic, London)

Guest writer Callum Kenny reviews The Inheritance at the Young Vic for The Queerness and finds it lacking.


‘A generation after the height of the AIDS crisis, what is it like to be a young gay man in New York? How many words are there now for the different kinds of pain, the different kinds of love?’

Representation of LGBTQ+ lives is of vital importance. In art, film, theatre, television, on the street and in homes, we need to see queer people being ordinary and extraordinary, in all their glory and ignominy. The Inheritance is an unapologetic depiction of gay life, and for this reason it will, quite rightly, hold a place in the hearts of many gay men who see it. But young queer people deserve more than the exclusive depiction of the homosexual experience presented by Matthew Lopez.

Lopez is a very good writer. His characters are fully formed and the dialogue crackles, swinging between humour and poignancy, high camp and sobriety. The men he has created on the stage come alive – laughing, fucking, arguing, crying together – but there seems to be a failure of imagination about this homogenous group of individuals.

A generation after the height of the AIDS crisis, things have changed in the way we present and perceive sexuality, and The Inheritance hasn’t quite kept up. The play is described as ‘panoramic’ and has been hailed as a sweeping gay epic, but queerness in all its beautiful, subversive, challenging forms is not celebrated. The men in this play are middle class, thin, handsome, affluent and educated. There is little-to-no differentiation between their lives, except those who want children with long-term partners, and those who don’t. A rich tapestry of modern gay life exists outside of the world of The Inheritance, but it isn’t shown. Only one corner is visible.

Where are the trans-identifying people, the non-binary individuals, the bisexuals? These people are part of the LGBTQ+ community and have also been profoundly affected growing up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis. Their lives are erased from this narrative and their stories have every right to be heard. There is only one model for what gayness is in this play, and it can be hard to identify with for anyone who doesn’t fit the chiselled archetype.

The Inheritance could be categorised as an ensemble piece; the actors are visible onstage constantly throughout three acts. There are many men in the cast that could be deployed to illuminate and explore different models of queerness, but they are, by-and-large, used as accessories. These characters seem only to mirror the central psychology of Eric Glass, when they could more interestingly function as microscopes to question and challenge his world view.

In act two, there are ten-or-so men at a table debating the importance of queer history and community, but this discussion falls flat. There is a cacophony of voices and not one of them reframes the topic of otherness in a way that is genuinely interesting. The conversation re-treads on familiar territory. In the dialogue, chaired by Eric, topics are touched on superficially – bullying in schools, the rise of HIV among black gay men, the assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream – but none are given enough airtime to be genuinely stimulating or insightful. Other perspectives in this scene would be welcome in elevating the dialogue, but there is no one character to provide a truly subversive stance.

Perhaps my expectations of The Inheritance were too high. After all, how can one playwright capture the diverse experiences lived and breathed by the contemporary gay community? To some, The Inheritance will be a light in the darkness, a genuine life-saver. It is a play that I am sure will be as formative to certain individuals as the film adaptation of Howard’s End was to Matthew Lopez in 1992. Its importance to these people, who feel like their lives have been represented and validated on stage, cannot be overstated.

But to others, this play will be a theatrical ostracising that makes them feel other within the heart their own community. These people will look for the fabulous spectrum of gayness they know exists in the world and find it lacking. They will want to see themselves in The Inheritance, and not find it. They will want more.

The Inheritance is running at the Young Vic from