The always fantastic Almeida Theatre is playing host to a new world premiere this month and this one feels particularly timey. Set predominantly in the 1990s at the Fall of the Soviet Union, Patriots tells the story of Boris Berezovsky who, among other things, was the man who shaped Vladimir Putin.
A story of ambition and the dangers that come with it, this may not be the easiest of watches given the atrocities Putin has been responsible for in recent months. However, he is only one part of the story that plays out here as Patriots charts the rise and fall of Boris Berezovsky – the Russian Oligarch who after falling out of favour with Putin placed himself in a self-imposed exile in London.
The role of Berezovsky is played by BAFTA award-winning actor Tom Hollander. Utterly mesmerising in his approach, for all intents and purposes, Hollander effectively becomes Berezovsky with the right balance of charm and conniving in what is truly a complex yet sinister performance. Perfectly tapping into the manipulative nature of the character but still allowing fleeting moments of sympathy as his plans blow up in his face, this truly is a masterclass in character acting.
Having the unenviable task of playing the most hated man in the world at the moment is Will Keen. At times giving a very understated and nuanced approach as the unnervingly quiet Putin, this leads to the contrasting moments where his voice is raised being powerful in their effect. Managing to hold his own against Hollander, Keen is equally brilliant with the scenes between the pair among the highlights of the piece.
Other standouts among the wholly sensational cast are Luke Thallon who gives a fantastic performance as Roman Abramovich, Ronald Guttman in a small but memorable role as Professor Perelman, and Jamael Westman, showing extreme versatility in his acting following his star turn in Hamilton with a truly remarkable portrayal of another Alexander -Alexander Litvinenko.
The Almeida always boasts impressive and diverse staging and Patriots is no exception, with a sprawling stage stretching further into the main space than previous productions and new seating sections to either side. At times the cast surround the catwalk like they are sat at a bar, jumping up on to the stage when needed. The fantastic set design by Miriam Buether coupled with the expert direction from Rupert Goold ensures the action is always exhilarating to watch. Gorgeous light design from Jack Knowles and an extremely diverse and often unexpected use of sound from Adam Cork ensures this is one production where all the elements come together beautifully to create true theatre magic.
It is the writing that makes Patriots such a gripping play. Peter Morgans text is full of a conflicting mix of tones with humour dotted around the piece covering up the more serious aspects that are at play. The themes of ambition, love and patriotism are explored interestingly, sometimes to thought provoking extremes. The biggest testament of the writing is how it is still able to provide escapism and not prove uncomfortable to watch in the knowledge of current world events involving one of the main characters.
Over the last year, the Almeida have been responsible for some truly remarkable shows including their inspired revival of Spring Awakening and the truly sensational Daddy. Patriots is yet another jewel to add to their crown of glorious productions. Expertly written, brilliantly performed and wonderfully unique in its approach, this is one show whose ambition will and truly paid off. Patriots is a truly mesmerising play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
Patriots plays at the Almeida Theatre until August 20th. Tickets from https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/patriots/2-jul-2022-20-aug-2022
Photos by Marc Brenner