Theatre Review - The Lehman Trilogy

STEFANO Massini’s gloriously ambitious The Lehman Trilogy, perceptively adapted by Ben Powers, is impeccably acted and beautifully staged by Sam Mendes.

It’s been pared down to a cast of three and a pianist. My only caveat is that the final act of its 3+ hours duration (with two intervals) feels rushed.

Bavarian Jews, Henry (Nigel Lindsay), Emanuel (Michael Balogun) and Mayer Lehman (Hadley Fraser) immigrated to the US in the 19th century. We follow their fortunes as shopkeepers in Alabama before they branch out into trading cotton. Henry died in 1855 while his brothers went on to endure the Civil War and invest in a New York office.

The dynasty includes sons and grandsons (the three actors play all the characters including wives and children). Their main talents were good judgment, an ability to change with the times and knowing when to cut their losses.

Emanuel moves the family business into banking, his son Philip helps them join the stock exchange, while in 1925 his grandson Bobbie diversifies and starts backing emerging industries such as airlines, motion pictures and cigarettes.

They survive the Wall Street crash and Second World War. In 1965 Bobbie sets up a trading division. They were to become the fourth largest investment bank in the US. At the time of their bankruptcy in 2008, there were no longer any Lehmans running the company.

Nick Powell’s magnificent score adds to the mood, and the live piano accompaniment, courtesy of Yshani Perinpanayagam, is a joy. Es Devlin’s revolving glass boardroom has its own history – inspired by Henry Lehman comparing America to a “magical musical box”.

Cardboard boxes litter the stage and are used as containers and building blocks until we are left with that final, powerful image of employees carrying their belongings out of the offices after the company collapsed.

Unmissable theatre.

Until May 20

Originally publihsed by Camden New Journal