The Inheritance - London

Matthew Lopez's modern classic arrives in the West End.

The Inheritance's Kyle Soller on Bringing the Two-Part Epic to the West End, Vanessa Redgrave's Surprise & More

The Inheritance's Kyle Soller on Bringing the Two-Part Epic to the West End, Vanessa Redgrave's Surprise & More
Kyle Soller & John Benjamin Hickey in "The Inheritance"
(Photo: Marc Brenner)

West End transfers rarely come as keenly anticipated as the upgrade currently being afforded the Young Vic production of The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez’s seven-hour, two-part play chronicling a cross-section of contemporary gay American life and patterned after the EM Forster novel Howards End. Demanding a lot of a cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave and John Benjamin Hickey, the play represents another career ascent for the London-based American actor Kyle Soller, who has the leading role of Eric Glass and chatted amiably to Broadway.com prior to the start of previews at the Noel Coward Theatre, where the play opens on October 13.

How does it feel to be revisiting what many regard as the theatrical sensation of the year to date?
I’ve never known anything quite like this. It feels like scaling a mountain again, this time knowing what to expect but also ready to be surprised.

Did The Inheritance feel like it was on an unstoppable roll when the premiere engagement finished at the Young Vic last May?
We did feel as if the play had its own momentum and that we were, and are, part of something far beyond our own experience. I know that Matthew [Lopez, the author] and Stephen [Daldry, the director] definitely had unfinished business with the play itself and have been constantly looking for ways to refine and improve it.

So, what is re-opening mid-October at the Noel Coward Theatre won’t replicate exactly what was seen at the Young Vic?
People I know who’ve seen and enjoyed it have said, “Why are you changing stuff? Why would you do that?” and I share that sentiment. At the same time, I have been amazed at what has been achieved as we adapt to our new surroundings. It feels as if we’re all constantly finding fresh sources of inspiration; the last section, in particular, feels as if it has been rediscovered.

Were you as astonished as most of us to find a writer penning a play in two halves and on this scale?
My feeling was one of utter shock and bewilderment and amazement. I had heard of Matthew before and read one of his plays years ago but he wasn’t really on my radar, and then all of a sudden, I got this call saying, “Do you want to meet tomorrow about this 400-page play, but you don’t have to read all of it!”

Can I assume that you read every word?
I slept for four hours that night—out of duty and respect but really because of my sheer enjoyment at what Matthew had written. Yes, it’s rooted in the gay male experience but because Matthew is so truthful and honest and raw, people from all walks of life have been steamrolled by it.

What do you make of the inevitable comparisons to Angels in America?
It’s funny: in a way, I think they’re irrelevant and yet within the same breath I can absolutely see the relevance: Matthew was obviously influenced by Angels in terms of himself being a gay New York playwright, and, of course, both plays are in two parts and are quite long. But beyond dealing with the gay experience in New York, you can kind of stop [the comparisons] there. Matthew asks such beautiful questions about what is happening now.

What do you make of your character, the tellingly named Eric Glass who is also the kindly thirtysomething New York lawyer through whom the story is refracted?
The most amazing thing about Eric is trying to play the utter goodness in him and that he sees in other people. It may not be fashionable to have someone at the center of a play who doesn’t have more shade, and originally, I wanted to put more shade into it.

Doesn’t acting goodness have its own rewards?
I had to just accept that the real challenge was trying to be good and especially now. I mean, we need a lot of goodness right now, and if I could be a fraction of what Eric Glass strives to be—that’s to say, attempting to live with integrity and goodness—I would be a far better man than him [laughs]!

As an American long-based in England [Soller’s wife is the English actress Phoebe Fox], does it make you homesick to be starring in so American a play overseas?
This has in a way made me miss America but it’s also made me have a desperate desire for Americans to see this play since I think it’s very prescient about the collective emotional difficulty that we are facing as a people. It’s been interesting, for sure, to start this play in London as an American when the play is so America-centric: maybe that has leant it a certain quality of the unknown, at least to London audiences, that has been positive.

How familiar were you with the classic English novel Howards End, which Matthew Lopez takes as his cunning template?
Luckily, I wrote my college dissertation on Forster—just kidding!! In fact, I don’t think I had read any of his books before coming to this project and as a result of the play read the novel in 24 hours and went to the production meeting bleary-eyed and yet brimming with this story and the discovery that Forster’s writing was so progressive and alive.

After acting in plays by Christopher Marlowe, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill, was there something nice about having your playwright in the room for a change?
I’ve been very lucky to work with some great legends of writing, like Williams and of course O’Neill. But I found an instant connection with Matthew’s play the minute I read it: there’s something about his frank immediacy and beautiful honesty that is hilarious and tragic – sometimes within the same sentence.

Is it true that none of the actors in the male-dominated cast knew that Vanessa Redgrave was in the play until she arrived in the rehearsal room? [Redgrave, playing a mournful mother, appears only at the end of the second of the two parts and is the only woman in the company.]
We had been drip-fed these little white lies that they had found this amazing Irish woman who was going to come in and then one afternoon there was a lull and the door opened and some white-haired woman peeked out and I thought, “Oh, she looks a bit like Vanessa Redgrave,” followed a few moments later by “Oh my God, it is Vanessa Redgrave!”

What was the collective response?
It was hilarious to watch the domino effect of realization as it took hold around the rehearsal table. Some people got teary and others started to hide: it was if the Queen had walked into the room!

Speaking of great actresses, what was it like playing Edmund to Laurie Metcalf’s Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night in the West End in 2012? [Soller got a 2013 Olivier nomination for his performance.]
I don’t have the proper vocabulary to explain how incredible it was to work with her. I haven’t worked with anyone else like Laurie, and I doubt I ever will: she was different every night and made it all seem entirely effortless. I’m just gushing here.

On the topic of emotional responses, how does it feel to be heading up a play that frequently finds audiences convulsed in sobs, even as they rise to their feet as one at the final bows?
It’s been the most amazing reception. We met people afterwards in the Young Vic itself or on the street who had experienced so much of what we talk about. They would say, “That was my coming out story,” or “I’ve been living with AIDS,” or “I lost 80 percent of my friends to AIDS.” Doing this play, you really do feel some connection to a higher purpose. I can't put it any better than that.