A Heritage and its History

Now that Julian Mitchell has adapted an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel to the stage, it seems strange that this has not been done before. The novels are written in dialogue form, in concise, gnomic phrases, arid on the page, and the living actors humanise the speeches and at the same time make clear who has spoken. The characters are sealed off from the world , like ornamental fish in a small glass container, and the story is like a fairytale without a fairy, made up or retold by a Victorian governess.

Simon Challoner, boldly played by Alan Howard, irritated his uncle, Sir Edwin, by constantly expressing impatience for the day when he would inherit the estate. Few human habitations remain draped with such a weight of tradition as this place in Wiltshire. In old age, purely for company, Sir Edwin married a comparatively young woman and Simon, strangely lacking in foresight, went to bed with her. There was no excuse. Small as was their world, Lady Challoner had a younger sister - who, in her turn, was very useful to Simon later on. A boy was born and Sir Edwin calmly acknowledged him and made him his heir. The displaced Simon married his uncle's sister-in-law and had a family.

Alan as Simon in 'A Heritage.....'

Twenty-four years later his son by Lady Challoner and his daughter by her sister wanted to get married. The situation was Greek in its awful simplicity. The two families were assembled and Simon, his back to the audience, explained to them the difficulty. His brother, Walter, kept shyly in the picture by Christopher Guinee, wished for Shakespeare to do justice to the scene, but, nowadays only Miss Compton-Burnett's dialogue could cope with it.

It was, of course, all pre-1914. The characters aged beautifully, especially Dorothy Reynolds as Simon's mother and James Cairncross as his uncle, but their times did not change. There was an interesting display of costumes and exemplification of period manners.


Theatre World, June 1965.

Plays and Personalities of the Year

'A Heritage - and its history'

This most unusual play, adapted by Julian Mitchell from Ivy Compton-Burnett's novel of the same name which was published in 1959, was originally presented at the Oxford Playhouse. Directed by Frank Hauser, A Heritage - and its history received wide critical acclaim both for the interest of the play itself and for the excellent acting.....

There was a very fine performance indeed from Alan Howard............

Theatre World Annual 1966

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