Apparently attitudes of a significant proportion of Americans have barely moved on since 1925 which makes Inherit the Wind more topical than it should be. One of the great strengths of this country is that we can accept plays that question the tenets of what is still our majority religion -indeed at the National it's compulsory. If only theatre practitioners were brave enough to adopt an equal opportunities approach to fundamentalism in all faiths. At times this play feels very old fashioned but a courtroom confrontation almost guarantees verbal fireworks and Trevor Nunn's production does not disappoint. Despite a huge cast this is essentially a two-hander like Speed the Plow, Kevin Spacey's last appearance here (that didn't have a midweek matinee either - why?). Spacey is in superb form as the attorney fighting for the freedom to think for yourself and the biggest complement I can pay David Troughton is that he loses nothing in comparison. Inherit the Wind is a bit like theatre used to be but it's good to be reminded of old values occasionally. - David Baxter
29 Nov 09
I never realised this was a musical...what a crashing bore, with deeply embarrassing mugging from Spacey amid the amateur operatics of the chorus. When will the ancient pedant Nunn get the message? This is the 21st century! - Coral
30 Oct 09
Wow - amazing production. Can't see how anyone could fail to be bowled over and totally involved, as the members of the audience I was part of certainly were. I know the play well and enjoyed the reactions of those who obviously didn't, down to the standing ovation at the end. Wonderful staging, excellent performances. A Trevor Nunn musical? - the singing was good, too! - Alice
20 Oct 09
This is a fantastic ensamble piece.The seemingly never ending depth to the set is impressive, but over and above all of this, Spacey & Troughton are Outstanding. Couldn't take my eyes off them, didn't want it to end. Simply Superb. - geoff
13 Oct 09
I saw this show in Previews on Sept 29th (Opened Oct.1.) I was impressed by excellent quality of the large ensemble cast. But I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in Kevin Spacey's Henry Drummond (real life Clarence Darrow.) For certain he is a brilliant actor, just not on the night I saw him. He seemed to vacillate between thundering histrionics & glib affectation. His job was to make one care deeply about his client & even more, the result of this trial. It is more than a man on trial, it is free speech & free thinking that are at risk. The words are there, just the passion and conviction that should accompany them didn't come through. From the beginning it plays as if the outcome of the trial is a forgone conclusion. That robs the audience of the tension and suspense needed to keep them invested and to use a trite expression, on the edge of their seats. It also makes the "trial" longer for all concerned. You badly want to be on his side. The whole play is about his rational & at times amusing defense of these inalienable rights. The script is an actor's dream. Concise, at times cutting, at others amusing, sometimes tongue twisting, but always reaching toward the truth. The verbal word play in the trial between the two leads is like watching a perfectly choreographed sword fight. Each matching the other thrust by thrust. David Troughton as his adversary is due all measure of respect and applause. His personification of the bombastic, devoutly Presbyterian, Matthew Harrison Brady (real life William Jennings Bryan) thrice failed presidential candidate, is fighting figuratively and, in the end literally, for his life. And what a perfect foe he is! Kudos to Mr Troughton.! (The actual William Jennings Bryan did in fact die five days after this hollow victory.) In a strong forty odd ensemble cast, there are a few who are particularly memorable. Maybe some of the blame for a lack of vested interest in the outcome, lays on the milch-toast portrayal here of Sam Phillips' Bertram Cates. The real person, John Scopes, was a firebrand. This was a case put together & financed by the ACLU to test the Butler Law. John Scopes volunteered to intentionally break it, be arrested and tried. A person as mild mannered as this Bertram Cates would never have agreed. Sonya Cassidy's conflicted Rachel Brown, is a far more sympathetic character. It is her convincing portrayal of how this will forever change her life; her family; and her values that forces you to examine & really care about "what happens now." (Though it does make you wonder what she sees in Bertram...) Mark Dexter as E.K. Hornbeck the cynical reporter, was infinitely watchable and seemed to wrest your attention away from whomever was sharing the stage. He was at times the Greek Chorus, the conscience and/or the unappealing other side of the coin we would all prefer not to see, but must. Spacey's final confrontation with Dexter was his most convincing and honest emotional turn. Gone was the flat affect that is a part of his movie persona. Here, his deeply caring soul was finally released. One wished he'd dared show this face throughout.
I have to admit I found Spacey's white wig most distracting. Perhaps he was trying appear more (Spencer) Tracy-ish and less Kevin Spacey-ish. Being an international movie star does hamper the transition to stage.
I liked the gospel singing and thought it added to the whole atmosphere of an insular town of the deep south. Without being obtrusive, it conveyed a slightly claustrophobic feeling of "oneness" still present in some small towns wherever they are.
In all, it is a good but not great show. See it if you love a well written, truly great play; masterful swordsmanship between two heavy weights; Kevin Spacey (maybe he was just having an off night the 29th) and for sure David Troughton who deserves a Best Actor nomination
- K M Cavuoti
13 Oct 09
How often do you get a cast of 42, a vast deeep set and a proper entertaining play about something relevant? Well, here it is! It was written in the 50's about an incident in the 20's but it's so bang up to date you gasp. The play draws you into the debate so much that there are moments when the audience spontaneously whooped and cheered at the dialogue. The whole ensemble is terrific, with a magnificent Spacey-Troughton double-act at it's heart; the best since Spacey-Goldblum at the same theatre last year. It might sound bizzarre, but this 50-year-old play is a breath of fresh air! - Gareth James
27 Sep 09
Kevin Spacey’s timing is exemplary. +++
Not just in his personal performance but in bringing to the Old Vic such a dynamic production of the 1955 American war horse ‘Inherit The Wind’ - a courtroom drama based on the true-life story of a young Tennessee school teacher arraigned for promoting the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin against the orders of a Christian fundamentalist school board.
Written in the shadow of the McCarthy trials it is topical today because of the ongoing battle between religious right-wingers in the US who have repackaged their anti-Darwinist stance into a fresh campaign to coerce schools into teaching ‘Intelligent Design’ (by the hand of God) instead of evolution as an approved scientific theory of the origin of man.
It makes Madonna’s Kabbalist babbling look almost rational by comparison, and it’s coming to a courtroom near you pretty soon as they extend their campaign into the UK.
In the meantime, enjoy the bareknuckle bout in 20’s Tennessee where Spacey is impeccable as the veteran lawyer Henry Drummond (real life Clarence Darrow) twanging his suspenders and twisting the witnesses’ words to barnstorming effect. He’s much shoutier than Spencer Tracy in the Oscar-winning 1960 movie, the internalised anger contorting his already hunched body into a shape that may physically recall Charles Laughton, but continuously commands the stage.
It’s possible Spacey was impressed by the 2007 Broadway production in which Christopher Plummer finally threw off the mantle of Captain von Trapp and won plaudits for his portrayal of Drummond.
For Drummond to have the audience on side is an easy win, you could argue, since the lawyer is fighting for the rights of the common man and the free thinker, but to succeed at this he needs a credible opposition.
In the real story, three-times failed presidential candidate and tub-thumping bible-basher William Jennings Bryan came to Tennessee as the prosecuting counsel. The character’s called Matthew Harrison Brady and in David Troughton’s strong performance he’s also a lurchingly crippled titan, matching Spacey barb for barb in the war of the words over bible passages and driving himself to a personal resurrection of his political career. If he’s ultimately weakened by the fight, the fault’s in the script rather than the performance. This man’s on his way to King Lear. +++
Half ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ half ‘Gone With the Wind’, the design whips up a confectionery vignette of the Old South. Director Trevor Nunn punctuates the court action with gospel singing and torchlight processions lovingly dressed in shades of sepia like the Kansas scenes in ‘Wizard of Oz’. Given the script is by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence - authors of ‘Mame’ - it’s clear Sir Trev is desperate to turn it in to a musical.
Outstanding among the 40-strong cast, something not usually seen outside the National, Mark Dexter plays the visiting cynical journalist who orchestrates the defence, based on Baltimore satirist H L Mencken, with a handsomely attractive oily charm - as he says ‘I may be rancid butter but I’m on your side of the bread’, and Ian Cunningham adds convincing value as the banjo-twangling court supervisor Ralph Meeker. +++
An old-fashioned ‘well made play’ but an excellent production. Go. +++ read more of my reviews at www.londonist.com and www.blowstar.blogspot.com - JohnnyFox
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