Review by Daz Gale
After acclaimed runs in London previously and a run on Broadway finishing last year, The Lehman Trilogy returns to the West End for a limited season at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Having won multiple awards and received so much praise, there is always a danger when you see a show like this for yourself, it won’t be able to live up to the hype. Having inexplicably missed its previous two West End runs, it was third time lucky for me as I got to visit the show for the third iteration of its London trilogy. But did I have the same reaction as all those who came before me?
The Lehman Trilogy charts the legacy surrounding the Lehman family when the first of three brothers set foot in America in 1844. From humble beginnings to huge successes and the ultimate failure of the financial institution, this tells the story from various generations of the family across the space of 163 years. Perhaps with such a vast timeline to cover, it will come as no surprise that this show runs for more than 3 hours, needing two separate intervals to space out each of its three acts (hence the trilogy in the name).
Each of the three acts are distinctly different in tone. The first tells the story of the three Lehman brothers; Henry, Emanuel and Mayer as they build up their business from nothing. The second focuses on fathers and sons as the next generation of the Lehman dynasty come into prominence, with the third act “The immortal” bringing us closer to their downfall which ultimately brought the global economy to its knees.
It's certainly a lot to take in, but Stefano Massini’s writing, adapted by Ben Power, makes it perfectly accessible and ultimately gripping. The first act can be a bit of a slow burn all things considered but the ante is upped in the second act with the foot not coming off the pedal until its dramatic conclusion. The Lehman Trilogy is a show so meticulous and wonderful in its writing, I couldn’t help being completely captivated and fully immersed into the Lehman’s world in a true feat of pure escapism.
Directed by the legendary Sam Mendes, the action plays out in jaw dropping fashion with great use of a revolving stage which recreates their offices from various angles. As it spins, the scene is transformed before our very eyes even when that means using our imagination with simplistic props such as boxes replicating various items throughout. Es Devlins sensational set design is a joy to witness, fully encapsulating you into the story. Jon Clarks lighting and sound design from Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey add to a truly atmospheric setting while Luke Halls versatile video design adds a sense of grandeur to the relatively static and otherwise cold looking set, bringing personality and drama to the stage with some inspired touches. The inclusion of music from pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam, tucked away in the audience, adds a unique element to proceedings, allowing the whole thing to feel even more live and raw as events unfold.
All roles in the show (aside from the janitors brief appearance) are played by three actors. Nigel Lindsay as Henry Lehman, Michael Balogun and Emanuel Lehman and Hadley Fraser as Mayer Lehman. As the years pass by, they take on future generations of the Lehmans but come back to the main three brothers who start the show and remain our narrative guides throughout the years. The sheer range of characters they get to play showcase their true versatility as actors with them taking on women, old men, small children and teenagers. Hadley Fraser is a particular standout as he takes on the range of roles with his turn as a female love interest for Michael Balogun and a screaming child among the highlights.
To say all three actors are impressive would be a serious understatement and a disservice to their capabilities. Nigel, Michael and Hadley all shine both individually and collectively in three equally phenomenal performances that are among the best I have seen in all my years of theatregoing. Three absolute masterclass performances are a great example to the art of storytelling with absolute precision in the timing, meaning all of the multiple comedic moments land exactly as they should. The Lehman Trilogy is a big story and these actors at the top of their game give it the sense of gravitas it deserves.
It speaks volumes for what a remarkable show this is that the three hours and 20 minutes fly by in an instant, almost like you are watching a speedy one act show. The only reminder of the length are the two intervals between the three acts which snaps you back to reality with a jolt. The way The Lehman Trilogy easily manages to lure you into the story with complete escapism immediately at the start of each act is part of what makes this show so special, and an absolute joy to watch,
It is clear to see why The Lehman Trilogy has such a winning reputation. The writing, direction and every production element come together seamlessly to create pure theatre magic at its finest. Add to the mix three incredible performances from three outstanding actors and you are left with a show that is as close to perfection as it gets. A testament to what theatre can achieve at its very best, The Lehman Trilogy is a show that should go on to prove its legacy for generations to come.
The Lehman Trilogy plays at Gillian Lynne Theatre until 20th May. Tickets from TheLehmanTrilogy.com
Photos by Mark Douet