By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2
WHEN?: Saturday 16 July, booking until 20 August 2022
Hollander is doubtless 1 of this country’s greatest living theatre and TV actors and here as Boris Berezovsky his performance is sweary, larger than life and unforgettable.
- Read on for reasons including how The Crown author Peter Morgan has crafted something extremely clever
The dictionary definition of a patriot is ‘a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors’ and both Berezovsky and Will Keen’s Putin (pictured left above) think they are both patriots despite, ultimately, opposing each other.
Author Peter Morgan is arguably best known for TV’s The Crown and here he has attempted to pull a similar trick by charting the fall of Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Berezovsky’s part in appointing Putin his successor.
Berezovsky is a former mathematics child prodigy who has become an oligarch, spots Putin when deputy mayor of St Petersburg and plays a part in installing him as Russian president because he thinks Putin can be his puppet.
Putin however rounds on the oligarchs and Berezovsky flees his beloved homeland for England where his bodyguard is Alexander Litvinenko, played memorably as principled and upstanding by Jamael Westman, 2nd picture below, fresh from his Olivier-nominated turn as the lead in Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre).
Towards the show’s close Litvinenko arrives barefoot and dressed in white to movingly debate with an ever more desperate Berezovsky pleading for Putin’s blessing to return to his native country to ease his crippling homesickness.
Elsewhere Luke Thallon (Camp Siegfried, Old Vic, final picture below) proves what a talented an accomplished actor he is becoming by convincing as a charming but ultimately empty Roman Abrahamovic.
Patriots is at its most affecting when Berezovsky recalls just how much he has underestimated and been outwitted by Putin and what a monster he has unleashed.
It would be interesting to know exactly when Patriots was written because it could really have been at any point during the last 15 years or so. But playing as it does now with Russia waging war on Ukraine it feels prescient warning as it does about the horrors Putin was capable of unleashing when his mission to wrest state control from the oligarchs was achieved.
We also especially enjoyed maths teacher Professor Perelman played by Ronald Guttman and his ongoing debate with Berezovsky about infinity and the concepts of freedom and confinement.
What is less successful however is the lack of female characters driving the action and the sense that this is a story which only ever skims the edges of being relevant for a UK audience.
Does it do enough to merit a West End transfer? Hollander’s towering presence – and there are several jokes which land well about a lack of stature – suggests it just might.
- Main pictures by Facebook courtesy Almeida Theatre Tickets
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