Kyle Soller: 'A seven-hour play about love is what we all need'
Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance at the Young Vic is 2018’s biggest, boldest theatrical hit so far — a freewheeling, brilliant, seven-hour, two-part play about love and LGBTQ history inspired by Howards End and directed with exuberant panache by Stephen Daldry. It features an ensemble of bright, buff young men, and the only woman in the cast is Vanessa Redgrave, but its beating heart is Kyle Soller.
The 35-year-old Connecticut-born, London-based actor plays Eric, a gay Jewish political activist in Manhattan whose moral integrity endures despite a romantic life and an inheritance of a country house that are — in echo of EM Forster’s Helen Schlegel — riven with difficulty. “Soller delicately charts the difficult, admirable progress of the man who melts into goodness,” wrote The Guardian’s Michael Billington. The actor’s layered, heartfelt incarnation of Eric also proved the prescience of the Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer he won at the 2011 Evening Standard Theatre Awards for a brilliant trio of roles.
Soller, who is married to the actress Phoebe Fox, was sent Lopez’s 400-page script as he was preparing to fly to New York for some meetings. His agent told him just to read a few scenes, “but once I started I just couldn’t stop, because it was just compulsively brilliant, and I felt a responsibility towards what Matthew had written to read all of it in 24 hours. I had never laughed and cried so hard. What struck me most about the piece was its incredible heart.
“Matthew was trying to answer some universal questions about life — how do I give and receive love, how do I live with integrity? — but also about growing up in the gay community.” One of the play’s central theses is that “in the hetero world we take for granted that our history can be passed on quite openly and freely” whereas LGBTQ history has been stifled by prejudice, shame or by the loss of a generation to Aids. (As well as Forster, Lopez pays homage to Tony Kushner’s two-part Reagan-era epic Angels in America.)
Soller’s Eric holds his own against the strongest characters on stage: his egotistical lover Toby; ingénue Adam, who becomes a manipulative star; and Henry, the Trump-supporting billionaire Eric marries.
Having won the part, Soller took his delayed trip to New York “and spent a beautiful month of exploring the city and trying to identify and explore what it would mean growing up there Jewish and gay”. Then came the rehearsal period, an intense process of “constant refinement, constant paring back to get to the heart of the story and tell it in the truest way. There is a whole, other play we could have performed from the cuts that have been made.” What, you mean there could be a director’s cut lasting 10 hours, I boggle? “I think maybe three days…” he deadpans. Even on opening night the cast were playing “mental Jenga”, trying to remember what had been cut and what left in.
Soller has worked before with visionary directors, from Richard Jones on The Government Inspector (one of the shows that got him on the shortlist for that 2011 Standard Award) to Ivo van Hove (on Hedda Gabler for the National alongside Ruth Wilson) to Jamie Lloyd (on Faith Machine at the Royal Court). But Daldry, the man behind Billy Elliot, The Crown and four Oscar-nominated movies, is in a class apart.
“He creates a very free and supportive atmosphere,” says Soller, “and he is refreshing in his honesty. He’ll say ‘I don’t know what we should do here, what do you think?’ That kind of collaboration is unique.” Daldry and Lopez also jokingly hinted that “a little old Irish woman” was going to perform the play’s only female role, Margaret, and Soller describes the “shock and awe” when “living legend” Vanessa Redgrave walked into the rehearsal room.
Soller was an athlete at high school in the States but he broke both his wrists on a baseball diamond at 16. He went on to study art history at Williamsburg but quit to enrol full time at Rada after taking a summer school there. He met his wife on the course, they married in 2009 and live in north London, having got over the awkward fact that Fox was also shortlisted for the Standard award the year he won. “She is one of the best actresses I have ever seen,” he says of his wife, and we both enthuse about Fox’s performance in A View From the Bridge in 2015, which went from the Young Vic to Broadway, and which he saw seven times.
He and Fox “come up with creative ways to make it work” when either is overseas or on location, filming. Soller played Francis in the first two seasons of Poldark, which upped his profile with the wider public but he remains primarily a theatre actor. Is he also now a fully naturalised Londoner?
“London is my home, but given my family still lives in America I have a pretty deep-rooted connection there,” he says. When Trump was elected, he wept, but also felt “an overwhelming desire to go back, to try and understand”. It would be wonderful if The Inheritance transferred to Broadway, I say. “There hasn’t been any talk but I think that’s what everyone hopes,” he replies. “[We want] to reach as many people as possible, given how important the discussion is. A seven-hour play about love is exactly what we need in this day and age.”
The Inheritance is at the Young Vic, SE1, until May 19 youngvic.org