Stuart King

Review: PATRIOTS at Noël Coward Theatre

The Almeida’s latest power drama to transfer to the West End sees Tom Hollander reprise his role as Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Will Keen as Vladimir Putin in Peter Morgan’s PATRIOTS which has landed at the Noël Coward Theatre for a limited 12 week run.

Cast Of Patriots - Patriots (West End) - Photo Credit Marc BrennerCast Of Patriots - Photo Credit Marc Brenner

Through a sequence of flashbacks we learn of Berezovsky’s early poverty and surprise discovery as a mathematics prodigy who later eschews a life in academia for the riches of becoming a businessman. As Gorbachev’s Soviet era ends, he is doing dodgy car deals and currying favour with womanising alcoholic Boris Yeltsin before bankrolling Vladimir Putin as his chosen puppet successor. Shortly after assuming the Presidency however, Putin demands respect for his office and rejects any notion that he is beholden to his wealthy kingmaker, triggering a decades-long feud.

Morgan’s previous work includes The Crown for Netflix but here, the offering has closer similarities to his earlier play Frost/Nixon where fundamental differences in personality serve to cause barely controlled friction under Rupert Goold’s stiff direction. A supporting array of now familiar Russians populate phases of the story including Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon) who acknowledged Berezovsky as his mentor and friend before their huge courtroom battle over ownership of a disputed corporation. Alexander Litvinenko (Josef Davies) as Berezovsky’s head of security also makes an appearance until Putin’s assassins despatch him with the now notorious polonium poisoning.

Oddly, despite a smattering of celebrity faces secreted about the stalls on opening night, the production seemed to have lost a little of the zing which characterised the play’s initial run at the more intimate Almeida venue in Islington. It is to be hoped that during the run the pace can be quickened — and audiences pulses as a result.