Phew, what a play. America traced through the history of a bank traced through the history of one family in three hours that starts with 19th century gentility and ends in a very 21st century whirlwind of destruction. You leave with a sense that you have learnt something about the high-wire antics of money-making… and yet overwhelmed, as if glimpsing something too big to comprehend.
The story of how three brothers Henry (Simon Russell Beale), Emanuel (Ben Miles) and Mayer (Adam Godley) Lehman came to America from Bavarian Germany, of how a fabric shop became a bank — and then more than a bank — is breathlessly told. Lehman’s kick-started the bank-as-business idea, where money begets money. Until it all goes kaput in 2008.
A tour de force of acting, the three play 100 characters between them (Beale’s version of a 5 year old Philip Lehman has to be seen) and seamlessly tell us the story as if witnesses from the future. From close observation to a quicker, more schematic overview of the post-war excess (fitting in a nice dig at ‘marketing’ along the way), the play relentlessly moves forward until a brilliant Adam Godley, playing Robbie Lehman, dances and shrinks into decrepitude on the eve of the ‘greed is good’ age that Lehman’s did so much to foster.
The acting has to be good to hold their own against Mendes’s evocative staging, which includes a revolving box of glass walls serving as a container to pack in 150 years of events. Its transparency sheds light on the dark arts of banking and doesn’t shy away from how Lehman’s clearly benefited from slavery and war. However the play isn’t interested in condemning, only in understanding how we arrived at our particular brand of capitalism. If human misery seems to drive most wealth creation, Lehman’s also funded the movie King Kong. The Lehman Trilogy shows that we all share a guilty debt to these money-makers.
The Lehman Trilogy will be broadcast live from the Piccadilly Theatre to over 700 cinemas on Thursday 25 July.
The Lehman Trilogy, Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman Street, Soho, W1D 7DY. Tickets: £18 – £125, until 31 August 2019.
Last Updated 24 May 2019