EXCLUSIVE: Sam Mendes, the Oscar and Tony award-winning director, has chosen three London theater stars — Michael Balogun (National Theatre Live: Death of England-Delroy), Hadley Fraser (Donmar Theatre’s Coriolanus), and Nigel Lindsay (Chichester Festival Theatre’s Woman In Mind) — to bring his much-garlanded production of The Lehman Trilogy back into the West End. That’s following triumphant runs at the UK’s National Theatre, the Park Avenue Armory and Broadway, and a phenomenal 16-week, sold-out run at London’s Piccadilly Theatre in 2019.
The actors will portray the Bavarian-born Lehman brothers, Emanuel, Mayer, and Henry, who settled in Alabama as cotton merchants, a springboard to what was to become what Balogun termed “a giant machine” on Wall Street. Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Ben Miles originally performed the multiple roles of the Lehman brothers and their descendants — male and female, old and young — in London and New York.
Written by Italian playwright Stefano Massini and adapted for English-speaking ears by Ben Power, The Lehman Trilogy charts the Lehman brothers start in 1844, chronicling their rise and how, in 2003, their descendants crashed the financial institution into bankruptcy.
Mendes, awaiting release of new film Empire of Light, an award season hopeful, will start rehearsals with his cast from November 28. The play will move into the Gillian Lynne Theatre, former home of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s troubled Cinderella musical [the latter opening on Broadway next year with new title Bad Cinderella] on January 24 for a limited 17-week season.
Present occupant of the Gillian Lynne is the new production of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, produced by Marianne Elliott (Company) and Chris Harper’s Elliott & Harper Production company.
The Lehman Trilogy is a co-production between the National Theatre and Neal Street Productions, the All3Media-owned film, theater and TV production house founded by Mendes, Pippa Harris, and Caro Newling. Neal Street commissioned the play first and it was developed and workshopped jointly with the National.
The National Theatre and Neal Street are also collaborating on the world premiere of The Motive and the Cue by Jack Thorne, set to open at the National early in 2023 with Mendes directing. It’s about when John Gielgud directed Richard Burton as Hamlet on Broadway, not long after his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, the first time, in 1964.
The Lehman Trilogy has been an enormous success for all concerned. “When you hear it’s a play about bankers, it’s not something that you immediately think is going to take flight, and we don’t have to say anything to prove that it already has,” said Fraser. “A run in London, a run on and off Broadway… We just have to keep going, don’t we?”
”Also, it’s a very human play, isn’t it? To call it a play about banking doesn’t capture it,” he added.
Lindsay agreed, noting that the play “humanizes the characters.”
“No one starts off being a multi-millionaire banker. They start from very small beginnings, opening a shop, then changing it and changing it, and suddenly, this dynasty is built. No one comes in at the top, unless they’re like Donald Trump and get given a billion quid when they’re 15. Normally it starts somewhere, and that’s what this play is about,” Lindsay told us when Deadline met the three actors recently for morning tea in a penthouse suite at The Londoner, a swanky hotel located on the edge of Leicester Square.
Balogun, who has appeared in Top Boy and won acclaim for his portrait of a Black working class man in Death of England: Delroy by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams at the National, said that he was struck by the scope and scale of The Lehman Trilogy, “ostensibly a play about finance. When you reduce it to its basics, it’s almost like a modern-day Game of Thrones. It’s about power and money.”
Lindsay worked into the City of London for three and a half years as an analyst for Suisse Bank. “I knew f*** all, but I spoke French. I had this interview and the first question they asked was, ’What do you know about OPEC?’ I knew nothing, of course.”
Asked if he’d been any good, Lindsay replied: “I was terrible. The worse I was, the more they kept putting my money up. They made 150 people redundant and not me. I said, ‘Are you mad! I’m the worst person!’”
Fraser, by now laughing, interrupted and said: ”There are versions of Nigel still running the Stock Exchange, which is why we are where we are.”
Balogun had banking experience, too. He worked in retail banking, later promoted to customer advisor, for NatWest Bank for two years. ”This was prior to the 2008 crash,” he said, quickly adding that he hadn’t been responsible.
However, a background in the industry the play covers is not necessarily a help. As has already been mentioned, it’s not about banking. To portray the multi-generational characters spanning 150 years, the actors needed to be adept at shape-shifting and physical dexterity, and the three actors have that expertise.
Fraser starred in two Donmar Warehouse Theatre productions at the Donmar, and in the West End for musical City of Angels, effortlessly playing dual roles, and has crossed back and forth between musicals and dramas; Lindsay, who was in the West End’s Shrek, can transform with the best, as he did playing a British jihadist in the satire Four Lions. Balogun was magnetic in Death of England: Delroy, and a riot in a variety of roles in a touring production of the play People, Places and Things. “We’ve got this,” said Balogun.
And with the world back in something of a financial tailspin, the play offers some insight. “It’s always human,” said Fraser.
“It’s really easy to look at these institutions like banks and ignore the fact that they’re made up of humans; all of the things you’re hearing on the news cycle — the markets and all of that stuff. A bank is made up of people, and it becomes non-human the bigger it gets, and when it falls apart, the collateral becomes human. For me, that’s what I found so moving,” Fraser told us.
The actor will also play a policeman in BBC One and Paramount+ six-part drama The Gold, about the so-called ‘crime of the century’ Brink’s-Mat gold bullion robbery near Heathrow airport in 1983. Dominic Cooper, Hugh Bonneville, Jack Lowden, Charlotte Spencer and Sean Harris star.
The Lehman Trilogy cast will be joined on stage by pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam. The creative team includes: set designer Es Devlin, costume designer Katrina Lindsay; video designer Luke Halls, lighting designer Jon Clark, composer and sound designer Nick Powell, co-sound designer, Dominic Bilkey, music director Candida Caldicot, movement director Polly Bennett and West End director Zoe Ford Burnett. Voice work is from Chairmian Hoare and casting by Jessica Ronane.