The Lehman Trilogy review at the Gillian Lynne Theatre London 4 stars

The Tony Award winning Best Play makes a triumphant return to London, following an acclaimed season in Los Angeles and a highly lauded run on Broadway.

Playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre 24 January – 20 May 2023 The Lehman Trilogy is a highly acclaimed three-act play written by Stefano Massini. It had been translated into 24 languages, originally opening at Comédie de Saint-Étienne in French in 2015 followed by an Italian translation at Piccolo Teatro, Milan in 2015. The English language translation was adapted by Ben Power and opened at the National Theatre in 2018 under the exemplary direction of Sam Mendes. Originally five hours long, Ben Power’s English translation comes in at just three hours and was a powerful hit with audiences and critics alike.

The Lehman Trilogy is the theatrical epic that chronicles a family’s tale of rags to riches then ruin. It climaxes with the collapse of the banking behemoth, the Lehman Brothers – at the time the fourth largest in the US – in the Financial Crash of 2008. And it’s a story of everything up to that point – the profit, the pain; the trials, the triumphs; a masterclass in storytelling.

The play soon transferred to the Park Avenue Armory, New York City in 2019 and was due to open on Broadway in 2020. Delayed by the pandemic, The Lehman Trilogy finally landed on Broadway in 2021, winning multiple Drama League Awards, Outer Critics Circle and Tony Awards for 2022 before moving to Los Angeles for a limited engagement. Having conquered the US, the celebrated National Theatre production is back in London this year opening at the Gillian Lynne Theatre for a limited season.

On a cold September morning in 1844, a young man from Bavaria stands on a New York dockside dreaming of a new life in the new world. He is joined by his two brothers, and an American epic begins. 163 years later, the firm they establish – Lehman Brothers – spectacularly collapses into bankruptcy, triggering the largest financial crisis in history. Weaving together nearly two centuries of family history, The Lehman Trilogy charts the humble beginnings, outrageous successes, and devastating failure of the financial institution that would ultimately bring the global economy to its knees.

In this return production, Sam Mendes directs Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay as the Lehman brothers Emanuel, Mayer and Henry as they navigate this mammoth play. Playing their subsequent sons, grandsons and wives throughout the Lehman brothers 163 year history, they’re joined by pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam who underscores the action from an upright piano at the foot of the stage and occasionally becomes part of the story herself.

The Lehman Trilogy is the theatrical epic that chronicles a family’s tale of rags to riches then ruin.

The vastness of the Lehman Brothers history is humanised through Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay’s excellent performances. Switching characters with ease and often narrating their own stories in third person, Ben Power’s script is encompassing and fantastically descriptive as the actors move around Es Devlin’s modern New York office set using simple filling boxes to depict time, place and setting. From their unpresuming beginnings as Nigel Lindsay’s Henry “the head” Lehman, Michael Balogun’s Emanuel “the arm” Lehman and Hadley Fraser’s Mayer “the potato” Lehman through to last Lehman to own the company Bobbie Lehman’s tragic end; all three actors display superb skill in tackling each character with wit, humor and reverence.

This return production of The Lehman Trilogy is gorgeously theatrical as it accounts history in parallel to the Lehman Brothers story. We travel along with Emanuel, Mayer, Henry and their relatives through wars, technological breakthroughs and economic disasters as the play ultimately chronicles how American capitalism lost its way. Does the play need to be as long as it is? Probably not, however with richly drawn characters, sensational performances and gripping drama, The Leman Trilogy deserves the many accolades and awards its received and remains a tour de force that is still strickling relevant today.

The Lehman Trilogy at the Gillian Lynne Theatre on 166 Drury Lane. Running now until 20 May. Tickets from £20.

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Stevie Flavio
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