Inherit the Wind, Old Vic, London

4.00

A coruscating courtroom battle

After the ill-fated musical version of Gone with the Wind, you might have thought that Trevor Nunn would have wanted to steer clear of the American South.

But the director is back there now in the Old Vic's remarkably involving revival of Inherit the Wind. This 50s play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee is based on the famous 1925 "Monkey Trial" in which a young Tennessee teacher, John Scopes, was arraigned for flouting state law by instructing children in the ideas of Charles Darwin. It may be a clunky old war horse, but the play is well worth re-mounting. Given that an alleged 46 per cent of Americans believe that Darwin was mistaken and given the muscle of the creationist lobby, its defence of the right to think for oneself is as timely as ever. It also offers the delight of watching two fine actors going head-to-head in the climactic courtroom ding-dong.

Kevin Spacey plays the smart-as-hell Chicagoan, Henry Drummond (a barely disguised version of Clarence Darrow) the libertarian lawyer who volunteers his services to the defence because he believes that not just Scopes but civilisation itself is on trial. Opposing is David Troughton's Matthew Harrison Brady (a dead-ringer for William Jennings Bryan) a demagogue whose only idea of a good read is the Good Book which he takes absolutely literally.

Spacey's superb Drummond is a wily, almost negligently charismatic legal titan who ambles across the courtroom on splayed, arthritic legs while running rings, intellectually, around his adversary. Matching him in stage presence, Troughton portrays Brady as, in part, a mountainous overgrown child, greedy for public approval and willing to resort to the cheapest rhetorical tricks to get it. By shameless mispronunciation, for example, he repeatedly puts the "evil" into "evolution". But, boom and bellow as he might, Brady fails to disguise the fact that these are the blustering noises of a desperate dodo – as is painfully demonstrated by Drummond's table-turning coup.

Denied the right to summon expert witnesses of his own, the defence lawyer decides to call Brady himself to the stand. While cross-examining him on his bible expertise, he exposes the ludicrous incoherence of this fundamentalist's beliefs. Spacey's comic timing is richly evident here. Informed that Brady thinks the world was created on 23 October 4004 BC at 9am, Spacey lavishes seconds of silent consideration on the notion, before casually flicking this lethal pellet of a question: "Would that be Eastern Standard Time?"

Though you occasionally feel that Nunn wouldn't be averse to turning this into a full-scale musical, he does a spirited job in creating a sense of the local community. Scenes are connected by a hymn-singing, banner-waving crowd of God-fearing worthies. The prejudice the defence was up against is communicated in the escalating zealotry of prayer-meetings held on the eve of the trial. Here, Troughton movingly signals the demagogue's underlying humanity when he gently restrains Ken Bones' hell-fire preacher from denouncing his own daughter for the sin of being Scope's troubled girlfriend.

Mark Dexter makes a strong impression as a suavely sceptical visiting reporter. By the end, this cynic has parted sympathies with Drummond who winds up, in a rather rushed development, arguing that the Bradys of this world have the right to be wrong with impunity. Was that a sentimental sop to the Broadway of the Fifties? Or in the rebuke it offers to the mounting intolerance of fundamentalist atheism, is it another way in which Inherit the Wind continues to put the present on trial?

To 20 December (0844 871 7628)

Arts and Entertainment
Above the hat of the toy gibbon, artist Mark Roscoe included a ‘ghost of a bird’ and a hidden message
art
Arts and Entertainment
Alien: Resurrection, Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder
film
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable