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QUENTIN LETTS reviews the story of the definitive American capitalist family 

2 1 0
13.07.2018

The Lehman Trilogy (Royal National Theatre)

Verdict: Clever saga of the banking brothers

Rating:

There is no denying that the staging is ingenious, as the Royal National Theatre tells the story of that definitive American capitalist family, the Lehmans.

You will watch with admiration as just three fine actors — Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley — play out the historical saga. You will savour the cleverness of a revolving glass box in which they perform, scribbling on its walls with marker pens.

You will delight in various cameos they adopt, from bawling babies to a doddery rabbi, from coquettish potential wives to the cascade of Lehman sons who over the decades turned the business from an Alabama cotton shop into the shiniest of Wall Street's turbines, creating money out of abstracts.

What a sweep of narration! What possibilities were offered to 19th- century arrivals by 'the magical musical box called America'.

Yet for all this, and though the evening's almost three-and-a-half hours (with two intervals) pass agreeably enough, where is the soul? What, other than greed and self- assertion, motivated these Lehmans? And what motivates their ilk in high finance? We are never quite told.

Sam Mendes's production of this Stefano Massini play begins with a September 2008 Manhattan office cleaner silently going about his work amid the deserted desks of Lehman Bros.

The place is filled with cardboard boxes and the cleaner's transistor radio relates the news of Lehmans' bankruptcy. That shocking collapse came to symbolise the banking crisis, an all-too real fable of over-mighty pride leading to a terrible fall.

One might expect such a subject to earn a playwright's wrath. This show chooses not to bare much indignation.

We are spared politicised morals, which in a way is a relief, and the production accordingly has a nicely detached air; yet our sympathies are........

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