Review: Patriots, at Almeida Theatre

Thursday, 21st July — By Lucy Popescu

Patriots Tom Hollander Photo Marc Brenner

Tom Hollander in Patriots. Photo: Marc Brenner

BORIS Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch who made his fortune in the 1990s, always claimed he was instrumental in bringing Vladimir Putin to power. Peter Morgan’s searing satire takes us through Berezovsky’s life from his early love of mathematics – a skill he used to make money – to his apparent suicide in 2013.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Berezovsky embraced the new capitalism. He made his fortune manufacturing cars. In 1994 he bought the Russian television channel ORT, recognising the power of owning the media. He moved in powerful circles and helped secure the re-election of Boris Yeltsin.

Two men precipitated his downfall: Putin and Roman Abramovich. Berezovsky helped Putin become head of the FSB (the state security that replaced the KGB). Then he made the fatal mistake of supporting Putin as Yeltsin’s successor, believing he would prove a malleable puppet.

After Berezovsky’s TV station criticised Putin for his handling of the Kursk submarine tragedy the growing rift between the two men widened.

To escape Putin’s wrath, and a prison sentence for “corruption”, Berezovsky fled to the UK in 2000. He was joined by Alexander Litvinenko (Jamael Westman) a former FSB officer, now on his payroll.

Meanwhile, Berezovsky fell out with Roman Abramovich who he later sued, alleging they had co-founded the oil company, Sibneft. He lost the case and his fortune.

Morgan covers this ground at incredible speed and with astonishing depth.

Rupert Goold’s hypnotic production boasts some phenomenal performances. Tom Hollander’s captures Berezovsky intelligence, cunning, wit and arrogance. Will Keen matches Hollander’s towering performance – at the start his Putin is all nervous tics, desperate for status; by the end he is exhibiting the signs of a tyrant, assured of his power. Luke Thallon, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Abramovich, is also superb.

It makes for stunning theatre – Morgan recognises that his subjects are Machiavellian in ambition, Shakespearean in their intensity.

Until August 20
almeida.co.uk

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