Stefano Massini: The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre / Piccadilly Theatre, London (Director: Sam Mendes)
By Sascha Krieger
Stefano Massini’s play is a massive effort: it attempts to do no less than to transform the rise and fall of a Jewish immigrants‘ business empire into a panoramic painting of American capitalism, coupled with a lesson in Jewish consciousness. No surprise that it takes on the form of an epic, a narrative spanning almost two centuries and various generations, in which the protagonists are tossed among the waves of time, complete with an at times almost chant like language, full of repetitions and enumerations, clearly schooled in Homer, individuals in the grip of fate – but, here the comparison ends, a fate at least partly created by them. Sam Mendes‘ production starts with the end: a janitor cleans out a conference room full of cardboard boxes and closes behind him. The Lehman Brothers story has ended, the bank being the most prominent victim – and perpetrator – of the 2008 financial crisis. And then it begins again: an old man dressed in mid-1800s clothes, enters the glass cubicle, the panoramic background changes from present day New York to the sea on which Hayum Lehman, soon to be called Henry arrived. Simon Russell Beale plays the company’s founder, soon to be joined by Ben Miles as Emanuel and Adam Godley as Mayer.