The Voysey Inheritance
**** National, London
Review by Michael Billington, Guardian, 26 April 2006
Every 20 years or so we rediscover Harley Granville Barker's astonishing play. Following revivals at the Royal Court in 1965 and the National itself in 1989, we now have Peter Gill's excellent production which proves that the play is more than a topical assault on financial fraud: it is also a comprehensive attack on Edwardian England.
Like Ibsen's Ghosts, it is a play about a poisoned inheritance. Edward Voysey discovers that his solicitor father has been speculating with his clients' capital; and that his father himself was the inheritor of a fraudulent business. And after his father's death Edward, while covertly trying to restore the clients' money, finds himself similarly imprisoned by his legacy. "Death closes all," claims a family friend; a line which acquires a bitter irony.
But Granville Barker's play extends beyond the portrait of a single family to become a quasi-Marxist attack on the immorality of capital: a point of view expressed by the author's mouthpiece, an impecunious artist, who regards all unearned income as tainted. But Barker also questions the fundamental hypocrisy of Edwardian life. "You must realise," says Voysey senior, "that money making is one thing, religion another and family life a third."
Gill's production effectively reminds us of the play's ramifications by filling the scene-breaks with an aural mosaic of Edwardian life that includes echoes of everything from Elgar and Sullivan to Masefield and Barrie: slightly less successful is the attempt to fill the unoccupied corners of Alison Chitty's Lyttelton set with a token street-sweeper. But the production reminds us of the subversiveness of Granville Barker's well-upholstered play and the acting has the in-depth quality of the National at its best.
Dominic West as Edward Voysey proves that the play is, in part, about the moral education of its hero; and we see West grow from anal prig into a man who accepts his responsibilities. Julian Glover is also excellent as his father suggesting the self-righteous smugness of someone who glories both in his public reputation and the cross he has to bear.
But this is a cast that bats all the way down. Andrew Woodall gives easily the evening's funniest performance as a bullying boomer of a Voysey son. John Nettleton as one of the family's victims also makes something genuinely touching out of his misfortune. Nancy Carroll as Edward's would-be fiancee and Kirsty Bushell as an independent-minded in-law suggest that it is women who hold the possibility of future redemption. In short, a first-rate evening.
· Until June 7. Box office: 020-7452 3000.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site. Copyright © 1999-2012
Last modified: 2012-03-15