Patriots at Almeida Theatre
Peter Morgan has enjoyed esteemed success with critically acclaimed plays The Audience and Frost/Nixon. On the silver screen he penned The Queen and his hit Netflix series The Crown has elevated his career even further. This is a writer who enjoys peering behind closed doors, allowing his audience to look at fictionalised versions of real people as he offers different takes and perspectives on historical and political events. Now, in perhaps his most timely work, Morgan’s attention turns to Russia.
In typical style, this is an epic and ambitious production, spanning from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 up to 2013, when Boris Berezovsky – our protagonist – was found dead at his English home, following his self-imposed exile. Berezovsky is essentially the man who created Vladimir Putin, pulling the puppet strings before roles reversed and Putin completely ruined him.
Tom Hollander portrays Berezovsky in a tour-de-force performance. The maths-genius-turned-successful-businessman gains control of Russia’s biggest television channel before using it for propaganda. Forming a partnership with Roman Abramovich and buying into the oil and gas industry, Berezovsky then turns his attention to Putin.
At one minute cracking jokes before exploding into unpredictable temper tantrums, Hollander has a great deal to do (and say) but triumphantly delivers. Morgan succeeds in offering a balanced view of his central characters, exploring how, in their own minds, both Berezovsky and Putin have a deep love for their country.
Will Keen is utterly menacing as Putin – one can almost feel a chill in the air as he exits after each of his scenes. The actor captures the younger Putin’s somewhat shy awkwardness and fear of being seen as a “little man”. He then gradually reveals the transition into the hardened, ruthless and dangerous individual he became. A standout performance. Luke Thallon is also very well cast as Roman Abramovich, and delivers another nuanced and compelling turn.
There is a lot going on and a great deal for the audience to absorb. While the dialogue is often strong, it at times relies too heavily on exposition. This can inevitably impact the pace, however, Rupert Goold’s direction ensures there is always something to see and somewhere to look. Bursts of energy are facilitated by Jack Knowles’s lighting design and Adam Cork’s sound. Miriam Buether’s expansive set sees a large bar thrust out towards the audience, upon which various locations are seamlessly established.
This is an intelligent political drama that forces its viewers to reflect on Russia’s history and how things have changed. The combined creative forces of Morgan and Goold ensure they are also thoroughly entertained.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Patriots is at Almeida Theatre from 2nd July until 20th August 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch writer Peter Morgan and director Rupert Goold discuss the show here: