Simon Russell Beale to play Lehman Brother... and son, and grandson in epic National Theatre play

Robert Dex
Three generations: Simon Russell Beale stars in the National Theatre's Lehman Trilogy: Daniel Hambury

The trio of actors cast by Sam Mendes as the three founders of Lehman Brothers will also play their sons and grandsons in the National Theatre’s “romantic ” epic about the downfall of the finance giant.

Simon Russell Beale will play Henry Lehman, with Ben Miles and Adam Godley as his brothers Emanuel and Mayer, in The Lehman Trilogy, which traces the firm from its humble origins in 1850 in Alabama to its 2008 collapse — a key element of the global financial crisis.

Ben Power, who adapted the NT show from the original Italian work by Stefano Massini, said it was “the story of the making of America but also the story of a family”, and had obvious parallels with Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia epic The Godfather.

“Like The Godfather it is an American immigrant story, a family who arrived with nothing and because of what America was they were able to do this,” he said. “We all know of the damage that was wrought to so many people around the world in the crash of 2008 and the part the fall of Lehman Brothers played and how irresponsible the behaviour of the company had been in the final years. But the play is quite romantic about the ideals behind the founding of it and celebrates the ambition of the first couple of generations.”

The characters of the founding brothers will dominate the show, which opens in July, but the cast will also take on other roles to tell the story of the firm after it fell out of family control when Robert Lehman, Emanuel’s grandson, died in 1969.

Power worked with director Mendes on BBC series The Hollow Crown and the new work is in collaboration with Mendes’s Neal Street Productions. It will stretch over three hours, taking in the American Civil War and Great Depression as well as the 2008 crash. “The cast are incredibly versatile. It requires actors of enormous dexterity and storytelling ability,” said Power.