Patriots ★★★★ Noël Coward Theatre | May 26 - Aug 19, 2023

Patriots raises the curtain on life in the Kremlin after the collapse of the USSR. Based on real events, the show chronicles the rise of the oligarchs under Yeltsin and their eventual subjugation by Putin. It is an absorbing recounting of how the leading oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, plucked the young Putin from political obscurity only to realise that his putative puppet was determined to master the wily puppeteer. It is a byzantine story of intrigue and ego and Peter Morgan connects the dots to create a dark portrait of the rise of the current Russian dictator that is chilling and intense. Any news media consumer will recall the various names invoked, like Roman Abramovich and Alexander Litvinenko, but Morgan's work very interestingly ties their stories into the main plotline and exposes the consequences of acquiescence or resistance to Putin's emerging dominance. The dialogue sometimes seems a bit awkward and too expository, but the plotline of the two principals struggling for power under the guise of different forms of patriotism is utterly compelling. There are no heroes here. It is only about the assertion of will and an unquenchable thirst for control. Tom Hollander presents Berezovsky as the more engaging of the two, but his inhumanity is certainly equal to that of the reptilian portrayal of Putin by Will Keen. Berezovsky's backstory as a mathematical child prodigy sheds some light on his ability to view his behaviour in the context of a game or an application of abstract principles, but Putin remains an enigma. Both men cast their actions as an extension of some form of patriotism, either sentimental or imperial, but the title of the play rings heavily with irony after its viewing.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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