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A CurtainUp London London Review
Inherit the Wind

Perhaps it is you who has moved away by standing still?— Henry Drummond
Inherit the Wind
Kevin Spacey as Henry Drummond
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
This classic play in the hands of expert director Trevor Nunn and two heavyweight actors still makes for spellbinding theatre. Based on a real life court case in 1925, the Scopes "Monkey" trial, but fictionalised, the issues of religious interference with education are as pertinent now as they were then. We are told that when it was first produced in 1955, it was to expose the McCarthyite witchhunt, as was Arthur Miller's play The Crucible of the same era.

The play itself is very well constructed with the first half hour dominated by the arrival in town of well known political figure and presidential candidate, Matthew Harrison Brady (David Troughton). Brady has come to defend the Bible and to prosecute a teacher, Bertram Cates (Sam Phillips) who has dared to mention Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution in his science lessons. Brady is a heroic figure in this backwater of a Southern town, Hillsborough, Tennessee.

Rob Howell's sepia dominated set with its light wood panelling and projected brown trees with circular overhead fans has muted shades of fawn and brown. Nunn's production has a large cast of Hillsborough folk chosen not for their beauty but their mundanity. Their extremity is their commitment as a community to the literal word of God. The arrival on stage of an organ grinder with a real performing monkey in a red velvet waistcoat and walking on two legs, is a visual forerunner of the evolution debate. There is attention to period detail; farmers in braces, affluent men wearing straw boaters and linen suits, women in cloche hats. The bearded street preacher Elijah (Sam Cox) warns of hellfire and damnation but even in this community he is an oddball. The entrance of the defence attorney is announced by an urbane reporter, E.K. Hornbeck (Mark Dexter) a wry and witty observer, working for the Baltimore Herald who has travelled all the way from Baltimore to see Henry Drummond (Kevin Spacey) appear in court. This is a trial that the whole nation is watching.

The jury parades on and sits in the front row of the stalls so that the attorneys can sometimes turn and address the audience directly. The court room scenes are a well matched verbal joust between these two legal brains. Spacey as Drummond in a white haired, wavy wig, adopts a hunched over body stance, his arms hanging down like a gorilla, his pacing of the stage rangy and impressive. By contrast David Troughton's unfit Brady, but sure of the goodwill of the crowd, leans backwards, his wide girth to the fore, mopping his brow with his handkerchief in the Tennessee heat.

A child tells the court that he was taught that "man sort of evoluted from old world monkeys". Brady calls these Bible haters, "EVIL-ooshinists!" The teacher's girlfriend, the minister's daughter Rachel Brown (Sonya Cassidy) is called by Brady to give evidence unwillingly against Bert Cates and Cates asks that she be allowed to leave without undergoing cross examination. Nicholas Jones as the judge disallows all of Drummond's planned scientific expert testimony so unpacking papers from his briefcase and thrown back on his wits, Drummond calls Brady, an expert on the Bible to give evidence.

The audience is treated to the consummate skill of Kevin Spacey a quick firing, witty actor who knows exactly how to have us eating out of his hand. He shows his surprise with a well timed, long drawn out "Oh!" said to the judge after a point is disallowed and we are amused, really enjoying this wonderful performance. "Should every word be taken literally?" asks Drummond of Brady.

This year sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and what better time to open the science versus religion debate in the view of the ascendancy of religious fundamentalism in the world? And what better place to inspire that debate than at the Old Vic by seeing a theatrical star in a legendary play?
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Inherit the Wind
Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: David Troughton and Kevin Spacey
With: Paris Arrowsmith, Paul Birchard, Ken Bones, Adam Booth, Katie Buchholz, David Burrows, Imogen Byron, Elizabeth Carter, Sonya Cassidy, Ian Conningham, Sam Cox, Branagh Crealock-Ashurst, Shea Davis, Mark Dexter, Mary Doherty, Branwell Donaghey, Janine Duvitski, Sarah Ingram, Nicholas Jones, Richard Linnell, Sidney Livingstone, Sam Phillips, Simon Lee Phillips, Vincent Pirillo, Christopher Ragland, Susan Tracy, Janet Whiteside
Set Design: Rob Howell
Costume Deswign: Rob Howell and Irene Bohan
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Music Supervisor: Steven Edis
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7628
Booking to 20th December 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th OPctober 2009 performance at the Old Vic, Waterloo Road, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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