I saw The Lehman trilogy last summer in London but today it opens in New York on Broadway. It is such an incredibly directed and performed play that I had to write something about it – so any readers in New York or planning to visit soon this is for you.
The play tells the history of the Lehman brothers who changed the world of capitalism, it is a 163 year saga beginning with the story of a young man in Bavaria dreaming of a new life then following the founding of a financial company as it encounters success for over a century and a half until it spectacularly evaporates in the 2008 global economic crisis (playbill).
The play, by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben power, is directed by Sam Mendes (1917, Spectre, American Beauty etc). Mendes’ approach is fairly paired back, choosing to cast just three actors to represent the titular roles. There is no fuss, just three actors, glass walls, a few boxes and tables and chairs creating an incredibly intimate tone as the audience peer in at the making and breaking of a family. The actors often don’t change costume either showing three men ageing, new generations emerging and the world around them rapidly changing.
It is performed by three actors: Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown etc), Adam Godley and Ben Miles who each play one of the Lehman brothers and various other characters throughout. I know that sounds a little strange and I thought it would be difficult to really get into the story if the actors are constantly changing characters but it didn’t feel awkward or confusing at all. Simon Russell Beale was particularly fantastic in it, putting on different voices and completely changing his posture and his mannerisms, physically embodying each character as he shifted through them. It also allowed for some comic moments when an actor acted out a character that you didn’t expect them too – you may notice that there are no female actors but women were not absent from their story.
The set was also ingenious, having a rotating glass box on set which contained three rooms – each containing either cardboard boxes or tables. There seemed to be a theme of threes in this play – 3 actors, 3 brothers, 3 rooms, 3 acts, a trilogy. It was also three hours long.
The length was of some concern to my sister, who did not find the play as enjoyable as I did. There are two intervals but the length can mean that you have to be prepared as an audience member to focus for three hours. The play consists of a lot of dialogue so you need to listen to understand the plot which I know some people are not fans of for such a long period of time – it’s the same reason that a lot of people are put off of watching Hamlet.
Overall, to quote The Times this play really does show ‘Theatre at its best’. Mendes paired back approach, combined with a compelling and complex story and incredible acting by all three actors makes this a really enjoyable, thought provoking theatre-going experience.