BBC Radio 4, 7 April 2012
The Bible tells us that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of
evil." This is certainly the case in Harley Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance (1905), in which solicitor
Edward (Samuel Barnett) discovers that his apparently socially respectable father Voysey (Clive Merrison) has been speculating
recklessly with his clients' capital, just as his father did before him. Edward is now faced with the dilemma of trying to
put things right, or make his father's crimes public and face certain humiliation as a result.
To be honest, the play makes its point with a sledgehammer-like lack of subtlety.
Voysey believes he has done nothing wrong (after all, he did use the money made in a good cause - to ensure a good standard
of living for his family), while his wife (Phyllida Law) chooses not to worry about his business affairs, even though well
aware that something is wrong. Edward strives to deal honestly with Voysey's dispossessed clients, including George Booth
(Gawn Grainger), but finds to his cost that Booth - as well as the local vicar -are as money-obsessed as Voysey. It seems
that no one in this capitalist society understands honesty and integrity any more; they are totally preoccupied with maintaining
a facade of respectability.
The play itself unfolds in a series of lengthy dialogues between two characters -
Voysey and Edward, Edward and Booth, Edward and Alice (Melody Grove). The actors sustained impressive levels of intensity:
the exchange between Voysey and Edward resembled a verbal sword-fight, with Edward issuing repeated thrusts, all of which
were elegantly parried by his father. Merrison's Voysey was particularly impressive; having spent so many years consolidating
his position, both socially and financially, he was not going to sacrifice it. Barnett's Edward tried his best to maintain
his integrity, but often found himself at a loss, especially during his exchanges with Booth, or his father.
Director Kemp used church-music as a way of commenting on the action. In the play's
first three acts, the contrast between the music and the characters' obsession with money revealed the extent of corruption
within this society. No one cared about religion any more. In the final act, when Edward and Alice had at last agreed to marry,
the music suggested some kind of redemption, as the two youngsters resolved to face the world afresh. They might not
be able to change people's attitudes, but at least they could retain their integrity.