Posts Tagged ‘Adam Godley’

Previous productions of this play, by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, have lasted five hours and had huge casts. Ben Power’s adaptation has a playing time of just under three hours, and director Sam Mendes has chosen to use just three actors to tell this epic story spanning 175 years. An inspired idea which delivers a captivating story of a dynasty, but also the history of capitalism and immigration to the USA.

The Lehman brothers are the sons of a German Jewish cattle merchant, the first brother Henry arriving in the US in 1844, Emanuel and Mayer following in the subsequent six years. Their business starts as a general store in Montgomery, Alabama, before they become cotton traders. After Henry dies, they move to New York City, where they expand into coffee trading, invest in railways and the Panama Canal, and eventually everything from airlines, cigarettes, films & armaments to banking.

It was not until 1965 that they move into trading investments, the business that killed them in 2008, something that the 1857, 1873 and 1929 financial crises, the American Civil War, two world wars and 9/11 didn’t. By then, there were no Lehman brothers left in the business that kept their name, the last dying in 1969. In the previous 125 years, six brothers from three generations had led the business, two for sixty years each.

Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley remain in the cloths in which they arrive in the mid-eighteenth century, but all play multiple roles of all generations & ages and both sexes absolutely brilliantly. It all takes place in Es Devlin’s glass-walled offices, representing where the company meets its demise in 2008, which revolve in front of a giant screen on which Luke Hall projects locations. The 2008 box files are used to create everything from shop counters to steps. It’s all in monochrome. Mendes’ staging is simple, enthralling storytelling, with the role-switching lightening it, providing some very funny moments. Live piano accompaniment at the side of the stage is also inspired, and brilliantly played by Candida Caldicot.

It all combines to create a wonderful unmissable theatrical feast.

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Well, Christmas lunch is assured at the National; the turkey has already arrived. In a perverse piece of programming, we have a 100-year-old slice of German expressionism for Christmas. It could have worked, I suppose, but even a hot writer like Dennis (Matilda) Kelly, the director of one of the NT’s great Christmas hits, Coram Boy (Melly Still) and the-designer-with-a-magic-touch – Soutra Gilmour – can’t bring this turkey back to life.

Our protagonist is a bank cashier who runs off with 60,000 marks (£900k today, the programme tells us) after becoming a bit besotted with an Italian woman who visits his bank. In one day, he goes in search of the meaning of life, starting in the Italian woman’s hotel room, moving to a field of snow, on to a velodrome (where he offers the lot as prize money, but abandons the idea because the royals turn up and dampen the atmosphere), a sex club and a mission hall…..and it all ends in tears. The truth is, wherever he goes, the play goes nowhere. When you resist the temptation to quit at the interval, it’s a very long 2.5 hours.

The inventive staging and design do their best (there was so much going on in the opening scene, I didn’t quite know where to look) but it’s not enough. The actors work very hard, particularly Adam Godley as the bank clerk, but they’re flogging a dead horse too. There was much silence in the auditorium – disbelief? boredom? sleep? (it certainly felt like a dream at times). I hope the rest of the NT’s Christmas lunch tastes better; the turkey’s tasteless.

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