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Live / stage review

The Lehman Trilogy, Showroom

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The Lehman Trilogy is the story of three brothers who arrive in America from Bavaria in the mid 1800s, setting up a modest cloth business which eventually becomes Lehman Brothers, the international investment bank whose collapse in 2008 triggered the largest financial crash in history.

Ben Powers has adapted Stefano Massini's vast, poetic play and Sam Mendes directs. The script is lyrical, funny and does not try to judge or explain. Told in three acts over three hours, this is the story of Western capitalism, of spirituality, of arriving somewhere and becoming, of a family and a business that grew over 160 years whilst charting some of modern history's pivotal moments.

Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles are outstanding as the brothers, their descendants and everyone else along the way, memorably playing children, women, a rabbi and a tightrope walker between them. The characters speak in the third person, which takes a little while to get used to, but allows them to reveal themselves to us.

Es Devlin's set is a glass box, simply furnished as an office in 2008. The characters write on the glass walls and move document boxes as times change and the business evolves. Luke Hall provides stunning backdrop videos and Candida Caldicot plays live piano throughout, occasionally lending the play a vaudevillian feel. The third act is chaotic, as the business, with no Lehman working there, hurtles towards its demise.

This play is a gargantuan feat of storytelling. Russell Beale, Godley and Miles are at the very top of their game, delivering a masterclass in their craft. And although it's part history lesson, what we really learn is how one family reacted to both opportunity and misfortune, and in doing so helped to shape a changing world.

The Lehman Trilogy was live streamed from The National Theatre to The Showroom as part of their Stage on Screen programme.

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