Box Set Theatre

Christopher Fowler
Box set theatre refers to those plays that run longer than the West End's normal two-acts-and-out-by-ten plays. In the past Alan Ayckbourn wrote 'The Norman Conquests', three plays that ran on consecutive nights, set over one weekend, which each play showing the same disastrous events from a different angle. 'The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby'
was an 8½ hour-long adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel performed in two parts. Each part had a single interval. It was presented onstage over two evenings, or in its entirety from early afternoon with a dinner break. I once saw the seven-hour 'Morte D'Arthur' performed at the Lyric Theatre and in a nearby church, presented in middle English. It was a very, very long day.
Now 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' is a smash with fans, and is spread out over two extremely expensive shows. So we could say that box set theatre, where you end up getting Stockholm Syndrome with the cast, is A Thing. Yesterday was, for me, the perfect urban day. It was snowing hard, slanting past the windows and we had tickets for a new play. I had taken a chance by buying tickets several months ago; they were cheap and I knew nothing about it, but it was directed by an old pal and I've liked everything he's done. Stephen Daldry directed the films 'Billy Elliot' and 'The Hours', and some of the TV series 'The Crown'. He also very kindly once
tried to make a film of one of my books, 'Soho Black'. The new play, by Matthew Lopez, is 'The Inheritance', and is presented at the Young Vic in six acts - that's two plays running close to seven hours, and we could do it in a day with a break for lunch. It's set in past, present and future New York, and follows the lives of a group of gay men studying 'Howard's End', under the tuition of EM Forster himself, who appears before them with instructions on how to write their own story. 'The Inheritance' is a play on words referring both to the house where Forster's Ruth Wilcox lives, and what young men have had to take on since the era of AIDS. It's also a meta-fiction with a delightful cameo from Vanessa Redgrave, now 81, who played Ruth in the Merchant-Ivory film. But it's the young ensemble's play - painfully, sometimes shockingly honest, heart-wrenching and often hilarious, it won't be for everyone; the sheer breadth and length of the piece allows for long digressions on politics, creativity, ambition and sex, but it is resonant and haunting, and a perfect argument for longform storytelling.


Denise Treadwell (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 08:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How fabulous, I wish I could see it. The imagery is there for me in your description!

Matt (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 13:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh to be in the thick of it again. Reading this has made me want to revisit the city to be among the Theatre crowd, live close enough to be able to join in. Village life is fine until you read a post on a blog like this, now I feel like i'm missing out ;-)

Peter Tromans (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 16:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We saw Nickleby in a day at Stratford. It was brilliant, a wonderful piece of theatre.

Roger (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 20:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The ultimate box-set - shipping-container-set - play I saw was Ken Campbell's ten(?) hour Illuminatus!, which I saw over forty years ago on a Sunday in Liverpool. I have nightmares about his twenty (?) hour The Warp, even though I went to great efforts not to see it.
Campbell - in one of his less ambitious moments - set out to persuade the world that the Royal Shakespeare Company was going to become the Royal Dickens Company after Nicholas Nickleby.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 22:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've not been to the theatre for quite sometime, really I should go. At least I'm off to see a band next weekend.


Denise Treadwell (not verified) Sun, 18/03/2018 - 22:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I must be going senile! Read the blog about Kings Cross. Went out to dinner, came back from dinner , meanwhile Mr Chris had written a new blog, and I wrote my comment on the wrong blog! My comment is about Kings Cross. And I have always liked Nicholas Nickleby.

Susanna Carroll (not verified) Wed, 21/03/2018 - 19:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have the poster from the Lyric's Morte d'Arthur in the living room, being something of an Arthurian geek I loved the play(s), but you needed stamina...