Ruth Leon’s Pocket Review

Ruth Leon’s Pocket Review

Ruth Leon recommends

norman lebrecht

July 24, 2022

Patriots – Almeida Theatre 

Boris Berezovsky is an unlikely hero. When we first meet him in 1991 he is, if not king, then king-maker. In Peter Morgan’s riveting new play at the Almeida, he is the first and most powerful of the Russian oligarchs, the post-Soviet group of entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in the chaotic last years of the USSR and parlayed their wealth into political power in the new, capitalist Russia.

At the beginning of Patriots, Berezovsky – Tom Hollander in a performance of real strength and subtlety – has blackmailed his friend President Yeltzin into giving him Russia’s most important television network. Controlling the airways, he also controls the poitical landscape. Russia is his.

With the fall of Yeltzin, Berezowsky, still at the height of his powers, casts around for a biddable, faceless bureaucrat to replace him and settles on a former KGB operative, the deputy mayor of St Petersburg. This man, he calculates, will do as he’s told and facilitate the money-making schemes of a small army of multi-millionaires led by Berezovsky which includes a starry-eyed acolyte called Roman Abramsky. The only small problem is that this man’s name is Vladimir Putin and, all appearances to the contrary, he isn’t going to be anyone’s puppet. Berezovsky has miscalculated.

The playwright has skillfully sketched the rise of Putin, with a devastating performance from Will Keane, who, without mimicry or obvious imitation, grows into Putin to the life. We may think we know what happened when Putin began to exercise the power that Berezovsky gifted him, but we don’t or, at least, I didn’t, and was kept guessing to the end.

This is a terrifically exciting play and, although it doesn’t mention the war in Ukraine, it makes it clear how it came about and what Putin’s interpretation of history and his own ambitions have led his country and his people to. And, as Berezovsky falls, how power can shift and corrupt.

The play is so good that virtually all the seats are sold out.  But take heart,  I feel sure the Almeida production will transfer to the West End.
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