Patriots by Peter Morgan. The Almeida, Islington, London N1 to 22 August 2022. 4****. William Russell

Tom Hollander and Will Keen deliver spell binding performances in Peter Morgan’s tale of the rise and fall of Boris Berezovsky, the mathematician who spotted how money could be made during the Yeltsin years and created the era of the oligarchs having seized contol of staet television. Then with Roman Abramovitch he moved on to oil and ever greater wealth. But along the way he recruited a minor KGB official, the deputy mayor of St Petersburg and set him on the political ladder assuming – wrongly as it turned out – that he would remain his placeman. Both men loved mother Russia, both dreamt of making her great, but he was to find that there was no place in that Russia for him once Putin became President. He ended, like other oligarchs, living in exile in England and in 2013 committed suicide at his Ascot home – others died at different hands, including Alexander Litvenenko.
Tom Hollander creates a marvellously charismatic little figure, all surface jollity and Jewish wisecracks hiding the steel underneath, as he schemes and plots his way to power – a performance matched by Will Keen as the equally patriotic Putin as he shapeshifts from dreary minor official to fully fledged autocrat.
The play is a sell out and deservedly so. One can only hope other homes can be found for Rupert Goold’s fast moving, incisive staging which veers from review like cabaret turns to fully fledged Shakespearian tragedy and then classic horror story. Maybe it will be filmed as the piece is a series of short scenes which makes it seem like something aimed at the screen small or large rather than the theatre.
It is, of course, yesterday’s story, but as an awful warning of what can happen when the wrong people take control of the state it remains today’s story – one which thrills and chills.

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