Review – Inherit the Wind, Old Vic

Thursday 24 September 2009


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.

20 Responses to “Review – Inherit the Wind, Old Vic”

  1. Phil K Says:

    Was it a wig? I thought the jury was out on whether he died it or not.

    I particularly liked the set. Like one giant pience of Ikea fold-away furniture. I had vision of Mr S. and Sir Trev assembling it from flat-pack themselves.

  2. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Re: whither courtroom dramas. Didn’t Jeffrey Archer bury the genre a a decade ago?

  3. I believe the last Broadway revival solved the need for extras (who, according to my shaky memory, are there to sit in the courtoom, wave fans, and watch the proceedings) by selling the gallery boxes as onstage tickets.

  4. CJ Says:

    Saw it tonight, it was awesome, took the points about the set, it was very deep…I had no idea the Old Vic had a stage that deep ( I still have dreams of treading it someday)

    good show.

    • Barbara Richards Says:

      I saw the play yesterday and thought it was brilliant. The dialogue was sharp, witty and Kevin Spacey and David Troughton both gave excellent performances. (Have you seen Kevin as Clarence Darrow in ‘Darrow’ aged 32 – he is just made for character parts)
      The stage is not always that large – they took six rows of seats out to get the longer stage which certainly gave that depth needed for the scenes.

  5. […] reason you need to see any production and after glowing reviews from fellow theatre trotters the West End Whingers and JohnnyFox, I am so psyched to see this play. Equally thrilled is my friend Carmi who is also a […]

  6. Alice Says:

    I saw this last night – Kevin Spacey and David Troughton gave outstanding performances. Overall a brilliant production. Much recommended.

  7. Julia Says:

    Was looking forward to seeing it, and was not dissapointed. Spacey was brilliant as usual, didn’t notice any funny walks …perhaps they had read the Whingers! Great set too.

  8. A Clown Says:

    I spent a lot of time working out how many times the Annie Get Your Gun set would fit onto that stage, I reckoned 15 in the end.

    Loved this though, and I thought the ending was very appropriate, given that what was being fought for was tolerance, rather than the superiority of one viewpoint over the other.

  9. laura vanner Says:

    I really wanted to like the play, more because of the ticket price, then because of some high art morale.I was shocked that the sunday mataniee was sold out, but the magoraty of theatre goes where white middle class middle to old age. Maybe this play appeles to them. But I couldn’t wait for it to end.The set is impresive but apart from that and some funny one lines in the second act, there is not much going for this play.on the whole the first act is slow and the text could do with some bold cuts and some of the performers were over acting. The endding scene is also a bit wet.
    I think the west end has better plays to offer.
    Laura Vanner

  10. petertheg Says:

    Laura Vanner is right. This production was desperately slow in the interminable first half where the same point was made over and over again. I didn’t believe Spacey’s second act humiliation of the judge and began to resent his hamming from there onwards. Self-indulgence ruled. Recent productions I have seen in the north-west (Manchester Library Theatre/Royal Exchange/Octagon)have been far more effective as drama. The 50-100 long queue for returns (last Tuesday, at least) told its own story of metropolitan obsession with celebrity.

  11. Jason Evens Says:

    Saw this yesterday Matinee. I too was gob-smacked at the depth of the stage and loved the design. Not really much of a play though although the 2 central performances were very watchable. I would have thought Kevin Spacey could have performed this in his sleep though, the part seemed to fit him so well. I particularly enjoyed the Spacey curtain call. Smile. Eye contact. Look around. Look around. Look around. Wait a bit more…..and bow very quickly and slightly (perhaps suffering from bad back after all that stooping). And repeat. I’m amazed the rest of the cast managed to keep in time with him. I’m thinking of trying it next time I’m on stage.

  12. RD Field Says:

    Anyone who has seen the film with Spencer Tracy’s towering performance could not help but be disappointed by Kevin Spacey’s efforts. I, too, could not believe his childish humiliation of the judge. Probably OK if you haven’t seen the film.

  13. […] the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of […]

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