Last Updated on May 25, 2019 by Fiona Maclean
Sam Mendes’ Production of the Lehman Trilogy.
The Lehman Trilogy started life at the National Theatre last summer and has justifiably made its way to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre – where it is guaranteed to continue its enormous success.
It’s not often I can engage in three and a half hours of narrative about the financial world and remain completely engrossed (in fact the idea is quite preposterous!). However, having spent an evening watching Sam Mendes’ extraordinary production of Ben Power’s adaptation of The Lehman Trilogy, based on Stefano Massini’s play about the intricacies of one family’s journey into high finance, I was truly captivated and quite overcome by the magnitude and pure genius of it.
The cast – three of our most celebrated and talented actors: Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley – play not only the three Lehman brothers but also a take on a multitude of roles, male and female, young and old. Such unfaltering dexterity and skill are a wonder to behold.
It’s an epic tale spanning over one hundred and fifty years, tracking the trajectory of western capitalism through the lives of the Lehman family. First comes headstrong Henry, “who is always right” (Simon Russell Beale), the authoritative yet charismatic Emanuel (Ben Miles), and mild-mannered Mayer – the middle man and the family mediator (Adam Godley).
Leaving their native Bavaria these three disembark in 1840s America, looking to fulfil the ‘American dream’. From humble beginnings working the rag trade in Montgomery Alabama, they quickly progress to buying and selling cotton. Fiercely ambitious, the Lehmans push through austerity, propelled by their unshakeable belief in “that magical music-box called America”. Relentless efforts are rewarded with success and their empires grows; as the business expands into banking, New York beckons. Successive waves of Lehmans try their hand at diverse markets, from coffee to railways, before venturing once again into frontier territory, spearheading the then completely unknown technology of ‘computing’…
This rags-to-riches story skips nimbly across generations of sons, marriages and heirs who grow up in a world of privilege, without the stigma of being first-generation Jewish immigrants…
This then is the backdrop to the Lehman’s most notorious achievement – the calamitous 2008 financial crash which triggered a global financial crisis – an event woven cleverly into the narrative from start to finish, with the family experiencing a series of foreboding nightmares of things to come.
Es Devlin’s magnificent revolving glass-box set is an actor in itself, performing wonderfully as a high rise Manhattan office and every other location, with Luke Halls’ dramatic video design creating expansive panoramic projections of cityscapes and fiery skies, giving a real sense of depth, grit and NY glamour. Musical director and pianist Candida Caldicot add the perfect sonic accompaniment.
The Lehman Trilogy is all-encompassing, yet intimate. It’s a deeply moving portrait of one family’s rise to the top of the American dream, all made so very accessible and watchable. Conceived and performed with a legendary spirit, this is true epic storytelling that sweeps us along on a truly unforgettable odyssey.
Without reservation, this is theatre at its best; pure gold!
The Lehman Trilogy is showing at The Piccadilly Theatre until 31st August.
The Piccadilly Theatre
16 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7DY
There will be a National Theatre Live broadcast to over 700 UK cinemas and many more worldwide on Thursday 25th July.
We also recommend Anna, currently showing at the Dorfman, National Theatre, London Southbank and Top Girls, currently showing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre.
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