The Lehman Trilogy review – Piccadilly Theatre

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Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley in The Lehman Trilogy (Photo by Mark Douet)

One senses there is some special alchemy at work in this West End transfer of the National Theatre’s hit production which charts the rise and fall of American banking behemoth Lehman Brothers.

At its very heart – within the sublime set design, the beautiful direction and the poetry of the script – are three astonishing performances.

Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles play every speaking character in this three and a half hour history (with two intervals) of more than 150 years of Western capitalism viewed through the prism of a single family.

Ben Power’s adaptation of Stefano Massini’s Italian original never feels too long. Beale, Godley and Miles speak their lines as if savouring a fine wine.

After a brief opening which recalls the 2008 financial crash the play takes us back to German-Jewish migrant Henry Lehman’s arrival in New York by ship from Bavaria in 1844.

Once in the “magical music box called America” he heads to Alabama where he sets up a modest fabric shop, and dreams of one day having a proper sign over the door.

He is soon joined by brothers Emanuel (Miles) and Mayer (Godley) and they extend the family business into fabrics and suits, seeds and tools and raw cotton.

As the years fly by, taking in the Civil War and the Crash of 1929, the actors take on the roles of Emanuel’s son Philip, Mayer’s son Herbert and a plethora of other characters.

Simon Russell Beale in The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre
Simon Russell Beale in The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

These role switches are an acting masterclass. Beale suddenly becomes a precocious six year old boy, Godley a selection of potential wives. It’s all done without costume changes. Or perhaps just the flip of a collar. It’s mesmerising to watch.

Es Devlin’s stunning set is a sleek modern office in a revolving glass box, yet the cast convert it into whatever scene they require by rearranging a few filing boxes or writing on the walls in marker pen.

An ever-changing video backdrop (designed by Luke Halls) conjures up Alabama skies, burning cotton plantations and New York skyscrapers.

Ben Miles, Adam  Godley  and Simon Russell Beale inThe Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre
Es Devlin’s revolving glass box set (Photo by Mark Douet)

Director Sam Mendes does a wonderful job of making the drama both epic and yet so intimate. The Wall Street crash scenes are heartbreaking.

Even if banking isn’t your bag, theatre doesn’t get much better than this.

The Lehman Trilogy is at the Piccadilly Theatre until 31 August. There will be an NT Live broadcast to cinemas on 25 July.

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