Saturday, 18 February 2023

REVIEW: The Lehman Trilogy at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

The buzz surrounding Stefano Massini's The Lehman Trilogy, adapted by Ben Power and directed by Sam Mendes, has remained strong since its premiere at the National Theatre back in 2018. Five Tony awards later, it is back gracing the stage at the beautiful Gillian Lynne Theatre to tell the story of three Jewish brothers who immigrated to America in the mid-nineteenth century to cement their names as key founders in the story of Western capitalism. 

The play spans 160 years, from the brother's modest arrival in Alabama where they went from shopkeepers to heavy-weight bankers in New York through to 2008 when the reign of the Lehman name on Wall St came to an end. The story evokes a section of American history shrouded by injustice, war and the prospect of new beginnings that never allows anyone to have equal footing but does allow for the brave a chance to reach new heights.

One of the more controversial aspects of the work would have to be the light wash over historical social injustices that parallel the success of the brothers. For example, slavery, the Civil War and Great Depression are mentioned but not seen through the lease of those most affected. But it feels like a choice which is able to show a side of a time, that for some, offered prosperity despite inequality. Another interesting comparison has to be in relation to the Jews who found prosperity in America while their community were facing the holocaust in Europe.

It is an epic three hours and twenty minutes long, including two intervals and earns every minute and it’s largely held together by only three actors, Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay. Each, not only play one of the three founding brothers of the Lehman legacy but, effortlessly, transform into countless other characters from their children, grandchildren, wives and an array of business people from days gone by. It is a flawless performance from the three that demonstrates restraint and integrity. Somehow, they manage to keep you on their side even when their characters' motives are opportunistic on the back of others' tragedies.

I can also use the word ‘restraint’ to describe the integration of the design elements. The delicate and evocative piano accompaniment from Yshani Perinpanayagam and sound design from Nick Powell meld together to underscore the events with both tension and pathos while Es Devlin's set design largely consists of of a rotating perspex office, dances with the movement and choreography by Polly Bennett gracefully. Likewise, lighting designer Jon Clark finds beauty and movement in fluorescent overhead lighting. The costume design by Kate Lindsay brings the modern set design into a dialogue with the past by simply having the men in modest black suits from the nineteenth century and Luke Halls has created a video design, projected at the back of the stage throughout the performance, that contrasts the minimal elements with epic landscapes. 

The Lehman Trilogy is a provocative and well-crafted piece of theatre that will most likely endure a run as long as the Lehman legacy itself. If you have the chance, do not miss this formidable performance. It will be what everyone in the theatre world will be talking about for some time.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: F43 | Price: £24 - £180

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