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The Lehman Trilogy

Many of my friends who go irregularly to the West End Theatre cite the same reasons:
1) it is expensive;
2) the theatres are old with poor amenities;
3) it’s a rush and the choice of supper beforehand or after is unattractive;
4) you emerge late at night in an insalubrious part of London;
5) the play or musical do not entice.

The criticisms have merit but every so often you see a play that overrides them which you can recommend unequivocally and such a play is The Lehman Trilogy which I saw yesterday.

I was initially unattracted when it first played at the National Theatre.

American finance does not engage me but plays like Enron and films like Wall Street and Wolf of Wall Street clearly have an audience. It was also long at over 3 hours.

Recently a good friend who is more of a football and opera man spoke highly of the play, stressing that it is the story of American Jewish emigration over many generations and the sheer sweep of it – from 1844 when the first Lehman arrived in the USA to 2008 the date of the bankruptcy of the bank – is utterly absorbing.

The play and production have a number of attractions.

First it is a three-hander of Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Dominick Tiefenthaler who act brilliantly and play a number of roles aside from the original three brothers, Henry, Emanuel and Mayer.

Simon Russell Beale for example plays a flirtatious divorcee, a southern plantation owner, a tight rope walker as well as the patriarch Henry who came to the States from Bavaria and set up a fabric shop in Montgomery, Alabama.

Second , the set is terrific. It’s a glass cube adapted into an office or shop set against a back drop of a changing photography scene of the New York Skyline, Montgomery, a dealing room of listed shares.

Third, the play is moving all the time. The Lehmans start as cotton shopkeepers, then raw cotton suppliers, then go into coffee and finally banking. Bobbie Lehman, grandson of Mayer, is the last Lehman to serve on the board.

After he died in 1969 the bank became more trading-orientated under Hungarian Lew Glucksman with Pete Peterson, son of a Greek cafe owner, and Dick Fuld running the bank till its demise in 2008.

My only irritant was the packing case. These appeared and were moved around at every scene the reason for which was unclear to me.

Yes, the loos were inadequate, the patterned carpets horrible, the bar overcrowded, the theatre too hot and my front row dress circle seat cost £78 but the evening flashed by and when it finished I felt I had attended a very special theatrical experience.

About Tim Holford-Smith

Despite running his architectural practice full-time, Tim is a frequent theatre-goer and occasional am-dram producer. More Posts