A good, old fashioned courtroom drama, Kevin Spacey in a white wig, a couple of lines from Janine Duvitski, a cast of 41 and a performing rhesus monkey – what more could any sane theatregoer possibly ask for?
Well, the Whingers would obviously want a running time which left open the window of opportunity to a post-show drink or three, of course. But listen to this: even with Trevor Nunn at the helm Inherit the Wind is all over in about two and a half hours. And, goodness, is it slickly done for the most part.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee‘s 1955 play is based on the 1926 Scopes Monkey Trial in which Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in contravention of a state law insisting that only religious explanations for the origin of mankind be taught.
Apparently it was written as a commentary on the McCarthy witch hunts of the time, the creationism vs. evolution debate obviously having been settled once and for all long before then. Oh, hang on. But really, anyone who has seen Phil struggling to get the childproof cap off a bottle of aspirin can tell you that the concept of “intelligent design” just doesn’t hold water.
So, yes, anyway, the second act is a good old fashioned courtroom scene in which Matthew Harrison Brady (David Troughton) and Henry Drummond (Spacey) battle it out for the prosecution and defence respectively.
Spacey is almost unrecognisable as the stooped and padded Drummond and for some reason put the Whingers in mind of Charles Laughton (in Witness For The Prosecution, not The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Spacey has given Drummond a very distinctive walk which is a bit unfortunate as Mr Troughton has a genuine limp (judging by his appearance in The Old Vic bar after the show). This results in what appears to be a battle of silly walks between the two adversaries which distracted the Whingers from the legal arguments somewhat.
There’s also great support from Mark Dexter as the cynical liberal journalist E.K. Hornbeck (a character based on H.L. Mencken) and – thrillingly – Janine Duvitski waving a fan. We also liked the old style flash gun and the rhesus monkey (we aren’t sure if we saw Kate, Lily or Rosie) courtesy of Amazing Animals.
There is a very well conveyed sense of the oppressive heat in which the trial takes place and for those who like that sort of thing (and we do) there is an audaciously deep set by Rob Howell which seems to go back a mile.
The scale is all very impressive. It’s a bigger cast than The Shawshank Redemption! and looks bigger than Ben Hur Live! Apparently the play is written for “25 or more actors plus 20 extras” which, as Sir Trev says in the programme is a tall order “but the Vic has a community project and does outreach work” which presumably means not everyone is getting paid. The Whingers are thinking about getting involved as they could probably spare one evening per fortnight to wave a fan and look all excited about the Lord.
We do think Sir Trev has himself evolved since Gone With the Wind – The Musical! Despite being back in the deep south with more wind and marshalling an army of 41 actors (plus monkey) there are only occasional traces of flatulence – too much unnecessary singing and business that slows the play down slightly. Despite this the Whingers can report that Trev’s wind is definitely on the mend.
The play survives because it’s a good solid old fashioned play with some clever and witty debating even if the ending feels like a slight apology for the attacks on religion that have gone before.
Afterwards, we were idly wondering whatever happened to the courtroom drama. It’s a terrific genre, but like the thriller and the whodunnit, it seems sadly to have gone out of fashion. Whose fault is that?
- Lawrence & Lee also adapted Auntie Mame into the hit musical Mame. Lee is survived by his wife, voice actress Janet Waldo (the voice of many well-known cartoon characters, including Judy Jetson)
- Strangely, there is no mention of Gone With the Wind – The Musical! in Sir Trev’s bio in the programme. He must have forgotten to add it.
- Most excitingly: Andrew turned up at the Old Vic sporting a natty newly cropped coiffure and having shaved off his full set. Phil thinks it’s knocked years off him and now looks like he was born during our current soverign’s reign. Andrew, however, is concerned he doesn’t have any lips, which is odd given the amount of lip Phil’s given him over the years.