The National Theatre and Neal Street production of The Lehman Trilogy directed by Sam Mendes returns to London for a limited run preceded by its triumph on Broadway where in 2022 it was laureled by 5 Tonys. Awarded best play, best director, best scenic design and best lighting.
On its return to London, with a different cast and with its West End director Zoe Ford Burnett, The Lehman Trilogy continues to earn these accolades. It’s such an interesting, thought-provoking play. Taking its audience for a pacey, sometimes dizzying, trip through epochs as it holds up to the light the creation of modern America, global capitalism and the creation of the consumer society. Ultimately arriving at the Global Crash of 2008 when the Lehman Brothers Bank collapse became the climax of the subprime mortgage crisis on Wall Street, triggering a worldwide financial crisis.
It is extraordinary this immensity of scale is achieved by just three male actors on stage. Their portal is the real-life story of this European immigrant family of three brothers who arrived with little but aspiration by ship in New York in the 1840s. Following which they contributed uniquely and enormously to the development of their adopted country while also becoming part of the political and financial establishments.
There are three extraordinary actors on stage, Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay. They each play many parts including women and toddlers. Unassisted by costume changes, these transformations prove to be a triumph of acting and direction. Hadley Fraser’s charismatic and joyous portrayal of, down the generations, Bobbie Lehman, is an unforgettable wonder.
The fabulous set design by the remarkable Es Devlin is a vital contribution to the show. This delightfully summons the great continent of America in all its grandeur along with changing landscapes, emotional as well as physical. This set works hand-in-hand with the superlative work of Luke Halls, video designer, and Jon Clark, the lighting designer.
The show is long at 3 hours 30 minutes but it is interspersed, for the benefit of the audience and, no doubt, the actors by two intervals, to be spent in the splendid facilities of the Gillian Lynne Theatre. One of the best and most comfortable theatres in London.
In addition, part way through the third act, there is a superb and hilarious extended scene, cleverly inserted at just the right moment to prevent any possible flagging of energy in the audience before moving attention on to the final time shifts.
One of the exciting and, likely perpetually contemporary things about this play, is that by taking us back through the past of America we are brought to a renewed understanding that we, as humans, are constantly evolving and this moment, now, is yet another juncture before more innovation arrives. Also, that capitalism will, likely be deep in the engine room of this, for good or ill, looking to make money. Again.
This is a show not to be missed.
As a side note the programme for this production is highly informative and provides terrific context for the play. Well worth having.
Review by Marian Kennedy
On a cold September morning in 1844, a young man from Bavaria stands on a New York Dockside dreaming of a new life in the new world. He is joined by his two brothers, and an American epic begins.
163 years later, the firm they establish – Lehman Brothers – spectacularly collapses into bankruptcy, triggering the largest financial crisis in history.
Gillian Lynne Theatre
166 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW
Until 20 May 2023