I make no pretence to being a theatre reviewer. I simply have the good fortune to live on the edge of London. This gives me the opportunity to visit the theatre every few months. To be fair, I am far more inclined towards musicals than plays, but in recent years I’ve seen a number of excellent plays. The standout play, I have seen this decade, was Red Velvet, starring Adrian Lester. The Lehman Trilogy is equally good, possibly having the edge.
The Lehman Trilogy – a haunted office
The first act of The Lehman Trilogy starts in the modern day offices of Lehman’s, as the radio announces the failure of the bank. What proceeds is an excellently acted story by a trio of actors, their characters seemingly haunting the modern setting of the deserted bank. The set itself is excellent, rotating and cleverly used by the cast. Despite being sat in the Grand Circle of the Picadilly Theatre, we could clearly see what was going on.
The three actors, Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles bring alive the history of the Lehman family from their arrival in the USA. The story flows incredibly well, each actor swapping roles, even genders, to cleverly bring the story to life. A combination of excellent timing and perfect delivery of the funnier lines means that you are completely sucked into the story.
At three and a half hours, including two short intervals, I expected the story to drag. If anything, by the final act, the story is getting a little too light, rushing to the conclusion. However, it still works brilliantly. That the tiny cast can maintain the pace and variety, is a testament to their ability as actors.
The history of Lehman Brothers
From a historical point of view, the story was easy to plot against the rise of King Cotton; the US Civil War; the railroad boom; Great War; Great Depression; World War; Cold War through to the final collapse of the bank. A handy timeline was included in the programme, allowing you to refresh your mind, although the clever story-telling led the audience through each period.
It was interesting listening to a group of people behind me fitting these pieces together in the second interval, helping them to recognise how the inter-war economy failed – it’s not GCSE History, but it plays true to the narrative students would know. If anything, the play neatly shows the rise of capitalism in the USA and how this specific company fell foul of modern financing and the lack of effective regulation. To be fair, the play does gloss lightly over the more recent parts of the story. It is still very successful at getting across the cut-throat ethos of modern trading. Yet, it would be much harder to engagingly show the audience how Lehman’s manipulated the figures to hide their fatal weaknesses.
With Sam Mendes directing, as well as an excellent cast, superb writing and a cleverly linked musical accompaniment on the piano, this is a play that is worth your time and money.