National Theatre: The Cast Of The Lehman Trilogy


(APPLAUSE) Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this National Theatre
Platform on The Lehman Trilogy.I’m delighted to welcome to the stage
these three wonderful actors who make the show happen. Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley… Sorry, Adam Godley and…
(LAUGHTER) – Are you Ben Miles?
– Yeah. I thought I was Ben Miles. ..and Ben Miles. Most of us here will know the name
“Lehman Brothers” from the crash ten years ago, when that huge investment bank went down
and there was a massive global economic crisis. And we remember those pictures
of the employees coming out onto the streets
with the boxes. And we might have come to the theatre
expecting you to explain that, to explain what happened
just before the crash. And we stop just before!
(LAUGHTER) What a shame! Get into the nitty-gritty of collateralised debt obligations
and all that. In fact, if you look at the set,
that’s what you see. – You do something very different.
– Yes, you’re right. The image that we all remember is the
employees coming out carrying their boxes, and of course, for those of you
who haven’t seen the play, that’s sort of all we use. This is the office that we play in. And… ..early on, we decided
we’d try and use everything that… only things that were in the office. Principally, these boxes. So, in fact, funnily enough,
the boxes have become, in our play, something more than just being carried
at the end by the sacked… or the people who’ve lost their jobs. But we still… To answer the question
about the crisis, I couldn’t explain to you the crisis if you paid me a lot of money. I mean, I have watched The Big Short
and I have done my stuff,
but luckily, the plays stops
just at the moment of the crash. I personally find it very moving that these three men,
who first meet in the play, the three young brothers came over and were working as… I mean, Henry, the oldest brother,
worked as a travelling salesman. I don’t think he even had a shop. They’re not even sure
whether he had a cart, if you read the biography
of the Lehman family. So he was really, really not… He didn’t have any money at all. And then the three of them
gradually built, within 70 years, they were building
the Panama Canal. I mean, it’s an astonishing story
by any moral standards. Do you think it’s a good time now
for a longer look? We’ve had ten years. We’ve had ten years of people grappling
with what on earth happened in the crash, why it went wrong, whether we reacted in the right way,
all that stuff. Do you think it’s time now to stand
further back? Is that what the play…? i think it’s sort of inevitable. It’s the tenth anniversary of the crash
in 2008 coming up. – Unbelievable, really, isn’t it?
– Yeah. There’s that perspective that… one has on this play, and there’s that context
in which this play is being performed. So, yeah, I think it’s time to sort of
look and examine… examine that story.
But like you were saying, Simon, one of the many things
I like about this play, is it…shows you the people involved. It shows you… It reminds you
that any great event in history is really just people reacting
as well as they can to either a disaster
or a great opportunity. And this, as you say, Adam,
it tells a very human story about these three brothers that came over
to America with very, very little and just tried to get on. And the extraordinary thing is
that this family did get on in such a hugely influential way. I mean, the things they did in America in the late 19th and 20th century
were incredible. This one family. Yes, just following this family,
basically, you see the emergence of the railways,
the emergence of the movie business… – So this is, I guess…
– As they shift and move. Yeah. This is a… It’s another angle on… It’s another way of looking at
the whole world of economics and investment banking and big business, and…what happened in the crash of 2008. It’s a very fresh sort of viewpoint
on that whole subject. Funnily enough, I think it deals with
the 2008 crash in a very clever way. There’s a section of the play that
deals with the great crash of 1929. And all the conversations
that the characters are having at that time in the play, you could transplant those conversations
right forward to 2008. They’re talking about the same things,
the same means of survival, the same dog-eat-dog atmosphere, the same terror, the same… ..the same hopes, the same… It’s the same atmosphere.
It’s the same thing. So, in a way, you do get a glimpse of how and why a great economic crash happens, but in this show, you see that through the lens
of the great crash of 1929. And Massini sort of chose to approach it from this sort of human,
personal, family angle, and introduced a kind of
spiritual element into it as well. The brothers are Jewish,
and there are references throughout to their religion and how that… They sort of lost a connection with that. And so I think his focus on that is
another interesting element in the play that you perhaps wouldn’t expect coming
to see a play about the world of finance. It’s not a lesson in… morals, it’s not a lesson in economics,
it’s not a lesson in ethics. It’s a…transparent, personal story about three brothers
and what they achieved as this entity, as this sort of
Lehman Brothers entity. A character in the play called Philip
is very interesting. Obviously for me, because I’m playing him!
(LAUGHTER) But it’s sort of when the business
becomes an international… He starts the internationalisation
of the business, really. But there’s a point when he goes… ‘The commodity that we deal with
is not cotton. ‘It’s not coal. It’s not railways.
It’s money. ‘Money to make more money.’ And, yeah, that is a turning point.
As Ben says, that’s one of many. I mean, you could argue that the moment when they leave their little shop
in Alabama to go and start being middlemen,
the invention of the middleman, the buying and reselling of cotton,
that could be the moment when it becomes
you’re not producing anything. Maybe if there’s a theme there,
it’s one about disconnection. – Moments of disconnection.
– Mm-hm. Whether from other people
or from a commodity… – Yeah.
– ..or from your spirituality or your community. And those moments happen throughout the play, and the more and more disconnected
you become. You three play the three brothers,
the three original brothers and everybody else, including little children, crying babies, elderly rabbis, beautiful blushing brides, several very, very demure maids… you know, just…
How many characters altogether? – Do we ever tot them up?
– I’ve no idea. I don’t know! Some of them last a line. Why? Could the National Theatre
not afford a proper cast? (LAUGHTER) When did that happen?
Why did you decide…? Sorry, we should say it’s Sam Mendes’s
fault, actually! Actually, I was there when this started,
because about a year ago – I think – we did a workshop of this play
in the studio, which is quite a regular process
the National does. And we got about…
about 15 people, I think. And we did two days of workshop on it and we couldn’t find a vocabulary
for doing it. It felt uncomfortable.
We were trying to… I can’t quite describe it.
It didn’t sort of click… We were miming trading floors, we were miming New York. It just wasn’t quite working. By the end of the second day… And it was partly a selfish thing
on my part, because I was reading Henry. I had no prospect
necessarily of playing Henry in the eventual production at that stage. But I remember thinking,
Henry dies on page 20! (LAUGHTER) So, crap part. (LAUGHTER) Anyway… So there was that there
when I said to Sam, ‘You know…you could do it with…’ Actually, ‘You could do it with one,’
I said, which was a ludicrous idea! (LAUGHTER) But with three actors of
whatever sex and whatever type and shape. And… Because then you’d get three people having a fantastic time, rather than
20 people getting rather bored. And literally, that’s what I said.
Because if you’re playing… ..you know, Babette, who says nothing
and then disappears, it’s not a great offer. (LAUGHTER) So there was a sort of practical reason. But I also thought, I wonder whether there is a way of emotionally
making it more… ..powerful that we see the whole play
through these three brothers. Anyway… Sam went away for about a year and then came back later
and phoned up. He was going to do it with six, I think. He was going to do two generations,
and then took away three and said, ‘Let’s do it with three
and see what happens.’ So the burden on us
and all the excitement for us was, as Sarah says,
we have to play everybody. And what I find very exciting is that I say to the audience, ‘I am not going to change anything
in my look. ‘I will still be a slightly overweight,
bearded 57-year-old. ‘But you will believe that I’m
an 18-year-old virgin from Alabama.’ (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) Because…because I believe it. (LAUGHTER) And we all have to do that,
and I find that really exciting. When you see Adam coming round the corner
here being Pauline Sondheim, and you think, ‘It’s Pauline Sondheim!’ – And there she is in all her glory.
– There she is. And I think that’s a very exciting
acting challenge. The rehearsal was about…a lot of it was
about discovering what we didn’t need to tell the story.
Because we started off with more. There was going to be a tightrope walker
at one point, going across the stage, the audience. And there was a point
where we sort of figured, actually, we don’t need that.
Better to have Simon pretend. SARAH: Simon? Yeah. Which is a good rule of life,
actually. (LAUGHTER) Simon is an expert tightrope walker! A final, very quick, question. Do you have…?
Not the three original brothers. Do you have a favourite character
of the multiple other characters you play? – Of the others or…?
– That you play. I’m quite enjoying at the moment
playing the mute sidekick to the Governor of Alabama.
(LAUGHTER) – Does he have a name?
– He’s a nasty piece of work. – He’s horrible.
– Does he have a name? I don’t know his name. Maybe we should
have a competition for a name. Take a straw poll. But he just leans in the doorway and eyeballs Mayer… ..for a full ten minutes. Mayer’s quite cute at that point,
so I think… Yeah! He’s quite…
(LAUGHTER) They check each other out. So he’s my favourite at the moment. I enjoy them all, for different reasons. I know that’s a kind of useless answer,
but… SARAH: What about the radio?
Do you enjoy playing the radio? I like Laura Roth. – Oh, she’s fabulous!
– She’s great, Laura Roth. You probably don’t know who that is, but I know who it is,
and I enjoy playing her. She’s the one…
The potential bride of Philip. She’s one of the listed brides. – Oh, yes, you play all these brides.
– And she laughs too much. She’s great fun, but she’s obviously
a nightmare to live with. And she’s based on someone I know
who doesn’t know it’s based on them! (LAUGHTER) Don’t tell that person that! This is out live on Twitter –
you do know that? Oh, I think probably the rabbi.
I love the rabbi. But I love the Irish maid. I’m sorry, it’s boring –
like Adam, I just love them all. I think the Irish maid who knows… But what I really enjoy… Funnily enough, mentioning…
Ben saying there’s a very funny look between the Governor of Alabama
and his sidekick, which lasts all of, I don’t know,
three seconds. It’s when Mayer says,
‘You owned a plantation once.’ And you think… It’s only seconds long, but the idea of the history
of what that might have been… Adam made me laugh last night on stage, because there’s one bit,
the last one line of one of the board members
the morning of… You know, ‘How can we close
for a period of mourning?’ And it’s literally just one line
and he’s gone. And I think it’s terribly funny
that these characters last… – Seconds.
– Seconds. Ladies and gentlemen,
we could sit here all day, I think, and talk to these three wonderful actors.
Thank you very much for your questions, and thank you so much for coming. (APPLAUSE) Thank you.

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