The Lehman Trilogy

The National Theatre’s production of the The Lehman Trilogy has now opened at the spacious Gillian Lynne Theatre where it looks set for another sell-out season. If you are going, it’s worth clearing your head of the ultimate demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008, when the company made the largest ever Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in U.S history with assets of over US$600 billion. That story is told, rather briefly, but you’ll have to wait over three hours to reach it.

A monumental piece of spectacular theatre

It’s one of many events in the play that are related largely as third person narrative. It’s a form that proves unrelenting and at times verges on the tedious, but it’s a device that’s at the heart of the writing by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power. The story also progresses in chronological order, with the dates often being given of when things happen. Again, knowing when the big collapse occurred it’s hard not to look at the clock and think, “Have we only just reached the Civil War, the Emancipation Act, World War I, the Great Depression and so on?” The play is steeped in the passage of time and events spread over more than 170 years and they are fascinanting in themselves but, it’s primarily about a pioneering family who came to symbolise the American Dream and the individuals who fulfilled it.

It all begins in 1844, when 23-year-old Hayum Lehmann leaves Rimpar in Bavaria to settle in the USA. Immigration officials couldn't get their tongues or throats around the pronunciation of the Jewish name, so he entered the country as Henry. He went to Montgomery, Alabama and opened "H. Lehman". In 1847 his brother Emanuel joined him and it became "H. Lehman and Bro." In 1850 the youngest of the three arrived and the name finally became "Lehman Brothers". They sold dry goods, but over the years they integrated themselves into the commerce of the region and ultimately the nation.

In those early days the south equalled cotton and slavery. The Lehmans invented the idea of the ‘middle man’. At the time multiple plantations sold to numerous manufacturers. They saw a way to streamline the process; they would buy from all the producers and then from one company the textile industry could buy from them. En route the they made money from a simple buying and selling procedure. That they owned three male and four female slaves ranging in age from 5 to 50 in a state where 45% of the population consisted of slaves is not an issue the play concerns itself with. Indeed the morality of any of their actions is not the concern of the play; its simply reports on the millions it made from arms sales, their profits from war and reconstruction and the billions involved in the dubious subprime mortgage market that led to their downfall. Meanwhile the generations come and go and the mindset of the family becomes entrepreneurially that of the USA. The company moves into banking and the broader field of finance

Interwoven between all the narrative from Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay, are some often amusing and delightfully performed cameos. In addition to ‘being’ the brothers and the offspring that followed, they appear as immigration officials, wives, girlfriends, rabbis, other bankers, merchants and many others whose stories impact upon their lives. These performances are from men at the top of their game, entirely comfortable in a lengthy play which gives them no respite and is tightly held together by bold direction from Sam Mendes. The perspex office set by Es Devlin is a work of minimalist art, perched on the revolve that takes us from one location to another as the actors weave their way through doors. Behind it the vast, curved cyclorama defines locations and moods with stunning imagery from video designer Luke Halls that harmonises with lighting by Jon Clark and composition and sound design from Nick Powell. A delightful touch is the piano accompaniment, rather in the style of the silent movies, played by Yshani Perinpanayagam, that adds to the momentum of the piece.

The Lehman Trilogy is a monumental piece of spectacular theatre in which everything is on the grand scale. Rather like the family, one suspects it will go down in the annals of history, though without an ultimate demise.

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Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

The National Theatre and Neal Street Productions’ The Lehman Trilogy makes a triumphant return to London following an acclaimed season in Los Angeles and a highly lauded run on Broadway, winning 5 Tony Awards® including Best Play. Directed by Academy Award®, Tony Award® and Golden Globe winner Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy features a cast of three playing the Lehman brothers, their sons and grandsons, in an extraordinary feat of story-telling told in three parts on a single evening. Hailed by The New York Times as 'a genuinely epic production', The Lehman Trilogy is the story of a family and a company that changed the world.

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.

Important COVID-19 information

This venue has additional Covid-19 safety measures in place to ensure the health and well-being of the staff, performers, and guests.

We recommend that you wear a mask while inside this venue.

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