Theatre Review: “Inherit the Wind” @ The Old Vic, 11/25

After sitting through the glitzy, fun-loving production of Sister Act, the night before, I changed gears and wanted to pursue something more serious. I ended up at Trevor Nunn’s production of Inherit the Wind starring film star Kevin Spacey (the new artistic director of The Old Vic) and David Troughton. Within the intimate yet large space of The Old Vic (the Royal National Theatre’s first theatre) it seemed like a perfect piece to watch. This production marks the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. It’s been 150 years and somehow the controversy of this book still rings important and poignant – quite amazing, really.

It is,“…considered one of the great American plays of the twentieth century, Lawrence and Lee’s gripping, relevant drama is inspired by the famous Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’…Two legal Titans confront each other when this close knit community puts freedom of thought on trial.” Spacey and Troughton’s performances were gripping and spell binding. Their connection and fierceness to each other brought instant energy and suspense to an otherwise clunky production. Without them, The Old Vic’s Inherit the Wind would have become a disjointed mess of political stereotypes about religious zealots and their fervor toward God.

The beautiful scene work and the use of the depth on stage were stunning. I’ve never seen a production that used so much depth (it looked like 40 feet back) and in such a compelling way. You could almost feel the stickiness of the humidity in the courthouse because of the successful use of lighting and ceiling fans. Rob Howell, the set designer, should definitely be congratulated.

I have two complaints. The use of American folk songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Down by the River” were used as “scene change music” sung by the actors. It was suppose to create a sense of unity and line between all of the scenes, but instead it did the opposite. It was disjointed, confusing and sung in the historically accurate “church-zeal” way, which ended up not being very “pretty”. While I appreciated the fact they used the correct historical version of “Amazing Grace”, the music ended up being vapid and loss of all meaning.

My other complaint was the overall dialect inconsistency of the cast. Maybe it was because I’m American so I noticed it more or because the last two shows that I’ve worked on were based in the South, but it was quite strange to hear an incorrect Southern dialect by professionals. They did change a few “American” words like suspenders into braces. While that didn’t detract from the overall sentiment of the show, it somehow still annoyed me. I guess I’m being nit-picky now. But with the caliber of actors, reputation of The Old Vic and the fantastic reviews the show received I felt it somehow was going to be better.

While the production didn’t run as smoothly as I would have liked, I still left the theatre thinking about my freedom of thought. I can’t imagine living at a time where I would be jailed for teaching something the government didn’t believe in. It’s a scary thought and one that Inherit the Wind brings to the audience’s attention in a very timeless way.

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