“I have chosen my oligarchs, and he is not one of them.”

Patriots is, on the surface, a story of the rise and fall of Boris Berezovsky, played by Tom Hollander. Throughout the play, however, we see how post-soviet Russia is transformed by the rise of the oligarchy which set the stage for Vladimir Putin to become the warmongering autocrat we know him to be today. This story is told chronologically, with a few flashbacks thrown in the mix as well.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Putin is played by Will Keen who very quickly grabs the attention of the audience. From his early days as the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, we see how Putin uses the political power gained by the new business elite to manoeuvre himself, to the halls of power and eventually to the presidency itself. Berezovsky feels as though he is owed for his role in making Putin president and finds himself at odds with the new president which ultimately ends with his exile from Russia.

Keen brilliantly shows us the subtly with which Putin shapes his image to prevent the world from seeing him as a small man. The slight swagger in his step and adjusting his posture in the mirror to seem broader, would be almost comical if it didn’t unpin Putin’s desire to be seen as the strong man in the East.

We hear how these characters believe their actions are for the good of their country, and repeatedly claim to be patriots whilst decrying the others as enemies of the state. Peter Morgan makes no mistake in showing how each acts in their own interest first before any thought for their country is carried out. One particularly poignant point is the struggle over the state television show. First owned by Berezovsky, it is used to score political points against Putin. While Berezovsky claims to be a supporter of free speech and truth, he doesn’t seem to notice the issue with having one man controlling the news and deciding what that truth is.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Through Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon) and Alexander Litvinenko (Jamael Westman), the influence of Berezovsky is shown. The tough image of Abramovich, seen often on the sidelines of Chelsea football matches, is completely undercut by Thallon’s portrayal of him as shy and somewhat child like which only serves to show the power of Boris Berezovsky. Hollander is excellent within his role of Berezovsky, you can feel the power radiating off of him, and the scenes between him and Keen are the best in the show.

Morgan refuses to paint any one character as entirely villainous. He shows us the complexity of each and how their belief in their patriotism allows them to do whatever it is needed to secure power.

You’ve got until the 20th of August to catch this riveting, witty new play at the Almeida. Probably not the best form of escapism, as it’s rooted in very recent history, but it’s a fascinating play and one that will teach you a great deal.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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