The Lehman Trilogy: monumental play on brotherhood and dreams
This article was commissioned by The Upcoming, where it appeared for the first time.
If you thought the cold and calculated world of finance was miles away from the generation of good human theatre, The Lehman Trilogy superbly proves the contrary. Three acts cunningly intersected, exquisitely choreographed and impressively performed paint the birth, development and collapse of one of the biggest investment banks in the United States, and possibly the world.
|Photo credit: Mark Douet|
Henry (Simon Russell Beale), Emanuel (Ben Miles) and Mayer (Adam Godley) Lehman are three Jewish brothers who, one after the other, migrate to the land of their dreams: America. Emigrating from their hometown in Bavaria, they establish their cotton business in Montgomery, Alabama. The siblings progress their empire, rebuilding and growing when tragedies occur, flourishing and strengthening thanks to their incredible talent and extreme flexibility within ever-moving times. As the business changes hands from the genius son to the hard-working grandson, onto the Hungarian trader and so on, the firm’s glittering success is tarnished, first fractured by 1929’s crumbling economy and then later crushed under the 2008 stock market crash.
The play is a perfect balance of narration and dialogue. Despite the unusually long running time, the production flows seamlessly and engagingly, with next to no dull moments. The driving engine is obviously the giant actors on stage, who, still wearing the elegant 19th-century suits of the founding brothers throughout, play a lively multitude of parts. To be asked to point out who is the best would be like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. The many funny roles portrayed by Beale may be the ones that best capture the audience’s sympathy. But Godley’s wise characters and sleek intermediaries and Miles’s rigorous and vehement expressions are irreplaceable, making this trio simply outstanding.
There are quite a few moments which risk becoming pretentious, but the script turns the tone swiftly enough to escape every single time. The inclusion of traditions, family relationships and a generous dose of humour make this theatre piece far more than a well-told chronology of the Lehman Brothers company. It brings the colossal bank down to earth from their unreachable glass palace: men among men, united, a family business who identified the winning ticket where others would have been mystified.
The production couldn’t be so impressive without the cubic set design of Es Devlin, which includes black and white landscape video projections in the background by Luke Halls. All the elements combine, threaded together by the dramatic, piano-based music of Nick Powell. The Lehman Brothers is a symphony: powerful, authentic, and fascinating. It is a story about cleverness but also about brotherhood and dreams; a truly American narrative devised through a monumental production.