The Lehman Trilogy @ Gillian Lynne Theatre (National Theatre) Review

15 years on from the 2008 financial crash, and the globe still recovers. An event that spelled the end of financial firm Lehman Brothers Inc., 161 years post founding brothers – Henry, Emanuel and Mayer’s emigration from Bavaria to the US, the trio’s impact remains. An exploration of their complex legacy, Sam Mendes returns with critically acclaimed The Lehman Trilogy – a historical lesson on the ever evolving nature of entrepreneurship and innovation.

As the show’s title suggests, we’re greeted with the Lehman’s legacy via 3 acts, the first concerned with the brothers emigration, the second with their establishing familial roots and the final, the now inevitable downfall. Es Devlin’s pristine, Perspex boxed boardroom, the silent 4th brother, the ivory tower towering over New York City, omniscient. Luke Halls’ expansive, panoramic projections transport us back to the Lehman’s emigration in 1847 – the Atlantic Ocean a vast, perilous entity they navigate, Lady Liberty standing proudly in the distance, a beacon of hope. We see the soul destroying conditions of the plantation fields of Alabama to the imposing, steely skyscrapers of the city. Fires of rebellion and the Civil war repetitions that signal the brother’s cyclical downfall and reemergence. From the South, to the North, we witness how the brothers mastered the craft of being the ‘middleman’ and steadily built an empire selling various commodities such as cotton, coffee, transportation and weaponry.

Ben Power’s adaptation of Stefano Massini’s acclaimed novel is one that offers more so of an embodiment of the brothers than character study, each a fountain of knowledge forever reeling information about their 161 year old legacy. So engrained in the American psyche were they, it’s a gargantuan feat to attempt to capture just how influential they were, yet the show’s compact script somewhat manages this. Mendes directs a compelling 3hours, each act aware of its needing to stay connected to the original founding brothers – the choice for Michael Balogun’s fiery Emanuel, Hadley Fraser’s measured Mayer and Nigel Lindsay’s headstrong Henry to multi-role future generations of the family one that immortalises the inner workings of family business and the traditions passed down to maintain legacy. The show is a masterclass on the skill of making money, and for a time, maintaining it. The Lehman Trilogy is a vital watch on grasping how foundations are laid down and how they can go on to shape how we all live.

Written by Lucy Basaba.

Written by Theatrefullstop