Sam Bennett

The company of The Inheritance at the Young Vic © Simon Annand

The company of The Inheritance at the Young Vic © Simon Annand

There are those of us who didn’t attend drama school but have still formed opinions of what it’s like – be these based on reality television, teen comedy-dramas, or Fame. “People have heard all the myths about drama school and I think I’d be lying if I said that some of those weren’t true,” RADA-trained actor Hubert Burton tells me.

He loved his time there though, he says. “It was absolutely incredible, and I definitely needed to train because I wasn’t ready to be a professional actor. I needed to spend some time around other people who shared a love of acting – it was a really nourishing thing for me.” RADA gave him a tool kit, he explains, made up of some extremely handy things and some not so handy.

“When you’re lying on the floor pretending to be a stone for an hour, you kind of question whether that’s useful or not,” he admits. On the other end of the spectrum, “You do a lot of voice and movement work that really gets you ready to perform in plays that require quite a lot of technical ability – the teaching is incredible.”

Hubert Burton

Hubert Burton

I ask if drama school teaches students a coping method for all the rejection that awaits them in the acting profession. “No,” he says. He was well schooled in the fact the industry is a very difficult one, but says you can’t truly ready yourself for said rejection when you’re training. In his case he got a decent amount of work soon after graduating, acting in theatre, television and film. “Then I had an incredibly quiet year where nothing happened. Nothing prepares you for it, and you go through a whole range of emotions. You can become quite bitter; you end up removing yourself from a world which you felt you were completely enveloped in before. There’s no coping strategy that you’re taught, you have to live through it, and that’s how you learn from it.” There are lots of people who quit the trade he says, for they can’t cope with the quiet spells. He’s even felt like calling it a day himself at times, he says, “but whenever you’re unemployed, you always think about the times you’re in a rehearsal room working, and how wonderful those times are. You push through because of that.”

He is currently part of the cast for Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance – a two-part play, set in New York, about what it means to be a young gay man in 2018. Playing at the Young Vic until mid-May, at the time of talking to Burton the play has had two previews of part one and two previews of part two. So far, he says, “Audiences seem to be empathising, listening, and completely engaging with the world we’re putting forward.” In some productions, he continues, early on in the run, “You find a lot of stuff you’ve been working on isn’t transmitting to the audience.” With The Inheritance though, “It really feels like there’s a connection – at this stage that’s really positive and exciting.”

Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton and John Benjamin Hickey in The Inheritance at the Young Vic. © Simon Annand

Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton and John Benjamin Hickey in The Inheritance at the Young Vic. © Simon Annand

Lopez’s play – inspired by EM Forster’s Howard’s End – takes place a generation on from the Aids crisis. “It’s basically a conversation between three generations of gay men,” says Burton, who plays Young Man 3 (one of the show’s storytellers); Young Henry (a younger version of Henry Wilcox – a lead in the play); and Tucker – a painter who burns his own work and dons a gold puffer. The show looks at what the gay community have been through in the past, he says, and how that affects the way they live now.

Alongside him in the cast is Hugo Bolton who plays Young Man 7 and Jasper. There have been lots of plays set in the midst of the Aids crisis, he says, about how the epidemic impacted on people there and then. However, he points out, there aren’t many plays that focus on the effect it has had on the gay community 30 or so years later, what a whole generation of gay people being effectively wiped out means for gay people today.

Hugo Burton

Hugo Burton

“We have so many more choices than we did ten years ago,” Bolton states of the gay community. “Gay marriage is on the cards, and adoption, and surrogacy. Gay rights have taken such a huge step forward. We need a story to reflect that, and I think The Inheritance does. It looks at the new choices gay people have, and the pros and cons of them, and also how we negotiate these new choices whilst still keeping hold of who we are and where we came from.”

As a gay man, Burton says it’s important for him to be doing The Inheritance. “Doing this play now has made me realise that I owe a lot to the men who have fought so hard in the past to give me the life I have now. This play is about standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us and acknowledging everything they’ve been through in order to give us the rights we have today.”

I say that people will inevitably compare The Inheritance to Tony Kushner’s seminal work Angels in America – a play about gay men, also in two parts. Burton doesn’t know if the comparison can go any further than that, and says it doesn’t necessarily need to be made at all. Theirs “is a play that is very much for the now – it’s about gay men now. To compare it too much with Angels in America would be to misunderstand what we’re trying to do.” He praises Kushner’s play highly and loved seeing it during its recent run at the National. But The Inheritance is a completely different piece, he says, “I think it’s worth us acknowledging that.” Both actors are working with two drama powerhouses for this production, one being its director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Crown, An Inspector Calls). Burton thinks back to his audition, where Daldry made him “feel relaxed straight away. He’s an incredibly generous and kind person, and that’s partly what makes him such a pleasure to work with.”

Bolton sheds light on the director’s way of working. He doesn’t want to tell actors how to do things, he says. “He doesn’t go, ‘Ok, the play’s about this, and we need to get here, and we need to make it like this.’ What he does is work from what the actors give him.” Daldry, he says, especially in the early stages, would openly admit to not knowing how they were going to do a particular scene. “He really just gets onto your level and that is honestly the most amazing thing because it means there’s no sense of hierarchy, there’s no one in the room who knows more than someone else. You’ve just got a bunch of people trying to work this story out.” Under Daldry, actors make their own decisions, and offer their own ideas, for him to then maybe nudge them in a different direction if needs be. This isn’t to say, Bolton tells me, that he just lets everyone else do all the work. It is to say that as an actor in this production “your work always comes from you and never from someone else. In terms of finding connections to a piece, that is key.”

Vanessa Redgrave and Samuel H Levine ©Simon Annand

Vanessa Redgrave and Samuel H Levine ©Simon Annand

The second powerhouse is none other than Vanessa Redgrave who plays Margaret. The cast were not informed the actress was going to be joining them until the end of week one of rehearsals. They were rehearsing a scene and in she walked. “We all kind of double-took,” Burton recalls. “It was an extraordinary moment. We were all like, ‘Oh my god, is that Vanessa Redgrave? That can’t be Vanessa Redgrave.’ Stephen stopped rehearsal and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce Vanessa who will be playing Margaret in our play.’ We were all completely overwhelmed as you can imagine.” He calls her “a theatrical giant”, and a lovely one at that, “and watching her onstage is completely magical – it blows me away every time”.

“She just has this amazing presence when she walks in a room,” Bolton remarks of Redgrave. “I’ve loved her my whole life. There’s something I find very emotional about Vanessa – a quality about her that I find very moving. Just to be in the same room as her is pretty amazing.”

Could Hubert go to Redgrave for acting advice if he wanted? “I’m sure I could,” he answers. “I’m not very good at that kind of thing, I get a bit shy, but I’m sure she’d be more than happy to give me some tips.” Tips from Vanessa Redgrave – they’ve got to be better than playing a stone for an hour.


The Inheritanceplays at London’s Young Vic until 19 May.

The Inheritanceis a two-part play.

Monday-Saturday: 7:15pm

Wednesday & Saturday Matinees: 1:15pm

You can book to see parts one and two separately on weekday evenings or see both parts in one day on Wednesdays or Saturdays.

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