Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
FT review
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A private dilemma to be relished by all

Premiered 100 years ago at the Royal Court, Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance remains, in Peter Gill's atmospheric, exquisitely acted production, a great family drama of the British 20th century.

Reviewed by Alastair Macaulay, Financial Times, 26 April 2006

Who wrote the greatest British plays between Wilde and Pinter? George Bernard Shaw, D. H. Lawrence, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, John Osborne. In at least two plays, The Voysey Inheritance and The Madras House, Harley Granville Barker proved himself more substantial than all of them. Depicting pre-1914 English society, he brilliantly catches the intersection of finance, law, loyalty, hypocrisy, family, and marriage, and makes them so real that they seem to speak about today’s society too.

And in The Voysey Inheritance, he dramatises a major moral dilemma. Edward Voysey discovers that the family firm, and the family wealth, has all been based on fraud. Since he cannot restore to clients money that no longer exists, what should he do? The play, richly textured, is about right and wrong, about public honour and private decency, sincerity versus sham.

We have reached this play’s centenary; every congratulation to the National Theatre on reviving it. Nobody who saw Richard Eyre’s 1989 National production at the Cottesloe should forget it; but Peter Gill’s new production is fully, and differently, its equal. Alison Chitty has designed two large decors that bring the Edwardian world to marvellous life, right down to the fires in the grate. Sound collages have been arranged to cover the scene-changes: the production’s only serious flaw is that these could have been better done.

Dominic West beautifully catches the anguish, bitterness, and exasperation of Edward’s situation; and he grows up during the play, imperceptibly becoming, as Alice tells him, the man his father never was. Julian Glover, though tense in the first act and slightly overdoing the vocal gravitas, does ideally embody the impressive worldly, calm demeanour of the elder Voysey: nobody would want to believe this man is the charlatan his son discovers him to be. The cast abounds in first-rate performances, among whom I must mention the serious feminine enchantment of Nancy Carroll’s Alice and the thrilling stuffed-shirt bluster of Andrew Woodall’s Booth Voysey. This production, a major event, does the honour that is due to Harley Granville Barker.

‘The Voysey Inheritance’ is at the Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London SE1. Tel 020 7452 3000

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