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Review: Patriots (Noël Coward Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

To say Almeida Theatre are on a winning streak at the moment would be a bit of an understatement. Following the recent sold-out sensation that was the West End transfer of their production of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Doctor which moved from the Islington venue to enjoy runs both in the West End and New York, they have made it three in a row with last summers Patriots moving to a bigger stage for a limited West End run. With ambition as huge as the play's main protagonists, would this transfer translate as well in a bigger space or would it have been better to have left it in a more intimate setting?

Peter Morgan’s play Patriots debuted at the Almeida Theatre in summer 2022, where it received rave reviews (including a glowing one from me) and become the theatres fastest selling new play. A story of ambition, loyalty and betrayal in a brave new world, it sees the evolving relationship between businessmen and politicians in Russia – namely billionaire Boris Berezovsky as he builds up Vladimir Putin and soon learns he’s not as easy to control as he had anticipated.

If you winced at the name Vladimir Putin, I’m sure you’re not the only one. There is a question of taste and what is appropriate when it comes to telling a story about somebody responsible for so much atrocities in the world. If theatre at its best can provide escapism, it is increasingly hard to lose yourself into a story and forget about the awful stories we regularly see on the news involving the war in Ukraine when they both involve the same person. Peter Morgan approaches this with sensitivity, telling the story of Putin and Berezovsky from before this war had begun. While there are small nuggets in the play that hint at what the future might be like and the briefest of mentions of Ukraine, this is a standalone story that doesn’t try to capitalise on current events – that is one of the many strengths of the writing.

Morgan’s writing is continuously multi-layered, allowing dialogue that remains accessible and easy to follow, crossing the line between humorous lines and more severe, sombre moments, The intent of the tone is always easy to determine as are the depth when it comes to the exploration of the characters, particularly Putin and Berezovsky. The struggle for power between the two and the changing dynamic in their relationship provides the backdrop of the play as does the overarching theme of what somebody would do for their own ambition and profit and what it truly means to be a patriot.

The writing comes alive through the expert direction of Rupert Goold. Maximising the impact of the characters and their very different approaches, the attention to detail in this leads to a truly captivating watch, particularly when it comes to Will Keen’s quiet and understated performance as Putin… for the most part. Miriam Buether’s set design has been expanded from the Almeida production to make better use of the larger space with added video design from Ash J Woodward creating a grander looking production. Jack Knowles lighting design pinpoints crucial moments and succeeds in remaining atmospheric and changing the nature of the show immediately, as does Adam Cork’s at times eerie and foreboding sound design.

BAFTA winner Tom Hollander leads the cast as Boris Berezovsky, delivering a truly exceptional performance consistently throughout. A larger than life and over the top character, Hollander channels this perfectly, playing the at times ruthless oligarch through various stages in his life, subtly changing the extremities of the characters personality. The versatility of Hollanders acting really shines in moments towards the show climax where Boris is forced to show a different side of himself. Always completely gripping to watch, it is easy to see why his performance was talked about by so many upon this shows initial Almeida run.

Playing a character who may well be the most hated man on the planet at the moment can’t be the easiest of tasks but Will Keen remains unfazed in his jaw-droppingly fantastic portrayal of Vladimir Putin. With subtle mannerisms and a quiet confidence, he gives a commanding and captivating performance, showing incredible range in the moments where Putin loses his temper. While he may have less stage time than Hollander’s Berezovsky, his performance is equally memorable and all the more impressive. It feels wrong to admire a performer when the character itself is pure evil but the impressive nature of it is a testament to Keen’s ability as an actor.

While other roles in the show are comparatively small, a well rounded cast constantly amaze with their fantastic takes on roles some people may be familiar with. One highlight is Luke Thallon’s winning turn as Roman Abramobivh, similarly quiet to Will Keens Putin for the most part but revealing an ever-growing confidence and an ambition that rivals his two colleagues. Josef Davies stands out as the ill-fated Alexander Litvinenko while Ronald Guttman gets several fleeting but memorable appearances as Professor Perelman.

Patriots is not the easiest of plays to perform at the present time, given its subject matter. The fact it manages to entertain audiences regardless and still provide escapism is miraculous and a reflection on the consistently remarkable production. Brilliant writing, outstanding direction and absolutely magnificent performances from the entire cast but especially Tom Hollander and Will Keen make this a sensational watch. Every bit as good as it was in its Almeida run last year, the bigger stage doesn’t lose anything from the previous production – in fact, it’s made it even better. This is one show that continues to find success as its ambition grows.


Patriots plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 19th August. Tickets from

Photos by Marc Brenner

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