Tag Archives: Kyle Soller

“The Inheritance” at the Noël Coward Theatre

Inspired by EM Forster’s novel, Howards End, Matthew Lopez’s epic play, in two parts, develops the novelist’s dictum of “only connect” in almost-present-day New York. Combining important ideas with big characters and plots that pull at the heart strings, it is soon to be on every best-of-the-year list – mine included. A transfer from its sell-out run at The Young Vic means more people have the chance to see this unmissable piece. Or, if they are lucky enough to have seen it already, spot any differences the move to the West End might have brought.

Packing both parts into the same day was my (unnecessary) excuse for going again, leaving me even more in awe of the amazing cast. Paul Hilton ends up the star of the show, primarily through his skilled depiction of Forster. The Edwardian author joins a group of young men to help tell their stories, and is coaxing and commanding in turn as we learn about their lives. This premise, which is such a delight, means we miss the great author too much in Part 2. Hilton’s second role is as Walter, who uses his home as a refuge for the sick during the AIDS epidemic. This story serves as the finale to Part 1 and guarantees not a dry eye in the house.

Paul Hilton and Kyle Soller

During the second part, the story of Walter’s heir, Eric (a career-defining performance from Kyle Soller), takes over and would more than satisfy in any other play. But, despite Soller’s efforts, Eric doesn’t fascinate in the way Forster did. While his story is also moving, it’s far less entertaining. There’s a cruel irony – and a call to action – as, despite improvements in gay rights and the treatment of AIDS, as we come into the Trump era the play becomes more fraught and less joyous. Lopez struggles with the privilege many of his characters possess, while the misery that comes with the stories of Toby Darling and Leo (two more superb performances, from Andrew Burnap and Samuel H Levine) start to feel a touch overblown.

Samuel H Levine and Andrew Burnap

Some of the exaggerations may come from the show’s new location. While the leads are superb and Stephen Daldry’s direction fool-proofs the show, some smaller roles are too exaggerated. The result on the night I attended was whoops of joy from the stalls at political observations. It’s nice to hear such enthusiasm, but the sentiment seems misplaced. Surely Lopez isn’t as partisan as some of his characters? But guessing (which might be presumptuous) that the West End audience was less well acquainted with the original source material leads to a new joy. Instead of nudges at recognition with the book there was shock at revelations in the plot. A gasp from a crowd is always exciting and illustrates the story-telling craft behind the clever ideas here. It’s Lopez’s attention to detail, his rigour, alongside his ambition, that will, let’s hope, result in this play serving as an inspiration and having an inheritance in its own right.


Until 19 January 2019

Cast photo by Johan Persson. Production shots by Marc Brenner.

“The Inheritance” at the Young Vic

Here’s a little idea: in times of cultural crisis, heroes are needed, and for Liberals they don’t come bigger than EM Forster. In Matthew Lopez’s play, about America but receiving its premiere in London, the Edwardian novelist appears on stage – portrayed with extraordinary skill by Paul Hilton – mentoring a group of young gay New Yorkers as they tell their stories. The clash of cultures is fun, adding a light touch to serious content that ranges far and wide. Played over two parts, with a marathon running time of nearly seven hours, perhaps the highest praise is that not a moment is wasted or uninteresting.

The Forster classic that the play is so very consciously in dialogue with is the 1910 Howards End. Lopez has characters narrating, shaping, scripting and performing events, a method that comes close to a combination of novel and play that is formally innovative and highly engaging. Action follows the book closely as sensitive artistic types (the Schlegels for Forster) come into contact with the world of commerce. Negotiating an update is full of wit. And thought provoking, too – when parallels become too forced, characters fight against what comes next. A reservation: it’s essential to know the book well to appreciate all this. The rewards include the novel’s titular abode transformed into an informal AIDS hostel – a stroke of imaginative genius that proves particularly moving.

The house is the base from which Lopez explores the inheritance in his title: the legacy of the AIDS epidemic and its relation to the gay community. History is alive and hauntingly literal for Lopez, which results in a truly stunning ending for Part One. Arguments are laid with ferocious intelligence and passion. A sense of fear about the current political climate results in inspirational calls to action – this is a play with a mission. It’s clear director Stephen Daldry is on board, treating the text with reverence: every joke is played for all its worth, each rallying speech given space. Daldry’s staging, imbuing more grandeur than the text requests, emphasises what an event the show is. Beautiful, too, bathed in a golden light by Jon Clark.  Similarly, the conviction of the performances is humbling, as a strong ensemble creates a chorus of supportive friends, loved ones and artists.

Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton and John Benjamin Hickey
Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton and John Benjamin Hickey

One Eric Glass is the emotional heart of the piece (the lead Schlegel, if you will) and a hugely appealing creation that makes for a career-defining role for Kyle Soller, who is riveting throughout. Lopez retains the name of Henry Wilcox, transforming him into a billionaire property developer, giving the character great weight, and the performance from John Benjamin Hickey does this justice. Oh, and Vanessa Redgrave has a part, too – an extended version of the housekeeper Mrs Avery. Of course, it’s exciting to see her on stage (and a blissful nod to the Merchant Ivory film) but, no matter how small the role, it’s testament to the production that even Redgrave can’t overwhelm the play.

Lopez gets tricksy when it comes to the role of Forster’s clerk Leonard Bast. Some elements of his role are shared out, his famous umbrella threw me, and taking on some of his aspirational characteristic is Toby Darling, rendered vividly by Andrew Burnap. Playing a self-destructive writer, trying hard to win an award as the ultimate narcissist, there are plenty of laughs. Toby’s own inheritance, an abusive childhood, lingers over the play and, while Burnap handles the scenes well, they feel like a loose end. Meanwhile, the parts of Leo and his doppleganger – a wealthy actor called Adam – are both performed by Samuel H Levine. All actors play more than one role but the flipping between parts for Levine shouts his talents deafeningly.

Kyle Soller, Samuel H Levine and Andrew Burnap
Kyle Soller, Samuel H Levine and Andrew Burnap

In the novel, Leonard is pivotal to deflating authorial grandiosity. The character retains his dignity and questions the role of art. Abandoning this, Lopez takes on a pious tone. Leo’s life as a member of an underclass – a prostitute who gets involved with drugs – brings us the play’s darkest moments, coming close to misery porn. While Leo’s end is ultimately happier than Leonard’s, it feels unrealistic. And it gives rise to surprisingly crass points on inequality. An earnestness pervades the play – it’s a fault some find in Forster, too – that makes it all a touch High Table. The humour that seeks to compensate doesn’t have Forster’s bite or finesse. The dialogue, rooted in contemporary privilege, might sound as foreign to English ears as anything Edwardian – which is interesting in itself – but some scenes, surely destined for auditions, feel like contrived set pieces.

While the conversation with Forster’s novel is fascinating, a final assessment of Lopez’s play rests on what he does with his inspiration. Current political concerns, social injustices and Trump trauma are all thrown in, sometimes messily. The legacy of AIDS, so sensitively handled, engulfs the play. Connections to Tony Kushner’s Angels in America are clear, but that’s another blog! An epilogue, which doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house, is when we arrive at a fantasia and when the play becomes its most aspirational. Concerning itself with the widest of societal connections through the personal, struggling so hard to connect the prose and the poetry – in the here and now – is the biggest lesson learnt.

Until 19 May 2018


Photos by Simon Annand

“Edward II” at the National Theatre

Director Joe Hill-Gibbins made his debut at the National Theatre last night with a radical version of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. He’s the King whose murder with a red hot poker makes him the medieval monarch schoolboys remember. This crazy collage of show revels in incongruous touches, using our current National anthem and the hokey cokey in its soundtrack, and wrenches the personal from an explicitly political text. Best of all, it boasts a lead performance from John Heffernan that must not be missed.

Hill-Gibbins’ inventive staging is bracing – a bag of tricks that updates Marlowe with a defiantly energetic touch. Projecting live films onto the walls, including scenes in an inside-out room (reminiscent of a Rachel Whiteread sculpture) that the audience cannot see into, gives a sense of intimacy and conspiracy. There are touches that will ruffle feathers – brash, bold and sexy – including the longest snog I’ve seen on a stage for a while. But the production is never obtuse; the court and its conflicts are consistently presented as a game played by debauched egoists.

The “base, leaden Earls” are deliberately overblown, outraged by the explicitness of Edward’s love for his minion Gaveston rather than questions of social status. Two roles, transformed into female parts, stand out, with Kirsty Bushell as Kent and Penny Layden as Pembroke, displaying sympathy toward the King that injects pathos. The biggest problem is for Edward’s wife Isabella. Vanessa Kirby proclaims her love for the King, between drags of her fag and swigs of bolly, well enough, but the production focuses so much on Edward’s homosexuality that it denies tension between the two of them.

Jpeg 8 - NTedward
Kyle Soller

Gaveston, the “ruin of the realm”, is performed by Kyle Soller with magnificent dynamism – when he kneels to the King it’s as if he’s about to start a race. In Soller’s performance the morbid playfulness of the production genuinely unnerves. But the suffering is all Edward’s and the scenes of his torture, filmed and projected throughout the final act, makes this a gruelling role that establishes Heffernan as an important actor. Despite the manic action around him, Heffernan has the power to create a stillness and deliver Marlowe’s poetry magnificently.

Until 26 October 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 September 2013 for The London Magazine

“A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Apollo Theatre

Director Antony Page’s new production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night marks a welcome return to the London stage by David Suchet. Taking the glorious role of tyrannical patriarch James Tyrone, successful actor and obsessive miser, Suchet’s performance is spectacular. In charge of a family haunted by the past, and with little hope for the future, Suchet isn’t just technically brilliant – listen as his American accent carefully slips into an Irish brogue – his stage presence is so commanding that it has you on the edge of your seat.

American Laurie Metcalf also returns to London, playing Tyrone’s wife Mary, and her performance is magnificent. Addicted to morphine, administered after the birth of her son, Metcalf’s lucidity wavers as she misguides her family and deals with her own demons. Sometimes painfully honest, at others simply a “ghost” inhabiting her own world, hers is a harrowing rendition.

Mary’s addiction serves to point out the failings of her whole family – the “fake pride and pretence” of her husband and her sons, finely performed by Trevor White and Kyle Soller. As the day becomes drink and drug fuelled, there’s “gloom in the air you could cut with a knife” but in this talented cast’s hands the play manages to remain tense despite its frequently delivered doom-laden conclusions.

To add tension to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is no small achievement as the play isn’t exactly suspenseful: this long day starts out fraught and doesn’t get any better. O’Neill’s miserabilist masterpiece is a cruel, brutal, examination into family life. Page has cut down the time we spend with the Tyrones – just under three hours – but this is an intense experience that can be hard work. When “the old man” bemoans being typecast you can’t help but think of Suchet and Poirot but, happily, Suchet couldn’t be further from fiction – this is a job he is up to and does achingly well.

Until 18 August 2012


Photo by Johan Persson

Written 13 April 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Glass Menagerie” at the Young Vic

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘memory’ play, The Glass Menagerie, is one you won’t forget. Introduced as a play that gives “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”, Hill-Gibbins and designer Jeremy Herbert develop Williams’ emphasis on the theatrical with crystal clarity.

With a curtain that goes down as well as up and musicians integrated into the action, the workings of the story are exposed to all, entrancing us with its telling.

Not that this illusion is really all that pleasant. Our narrator Tom relates the tale of his escape from home but never disguises the fact that he is abandoning his mother and sister. Leo Bill plays this unsympathetic character, who haunted from the start. It is a surprisingly physical portrayal with a palpable sense of anger and despair.

The urgency of Tom’s leaving is well established by Deborah Findlay and Sinead Matthews in the roles of his mother Amanda and sister Laura. The danger of their self-illusion is subtly conveyed and is all the more powerful for the way it creeps up on you.

Even in Williams’ day, the chivalry of the South was a thing of the past. Nowadays, Amanda’s delusions and Laura’s timidity can seem not just deluded but silly. Findlay does well to establish her character’s ideas without alienating the audience. This is a lesson Matthews has chosen to ignore. Some actresses play Laura with a stubbornness about her fantasy life that is missing here. But, in neglecting this, Matthews is all the more moving and as fragile as the glass animals she collects.

The play’s fourth character, Jim the gentleman caller, is “an emissary from the world of reality” and arrives through a door marked with a star. Kyle Soller gives an excellent performance, fitting Tom’s description of him perfectly and adding a sincerity that cannot fail to move. He becomes central to Hill-Gibbins’ sensitive direction of this masterpiece and in bringing emotion to the fore leaves us as haunted as the characters left abandoned in their fantasy world.


Until 15 January 2011

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 22 November 2010 for The London Magazine