Confession: I sat down to watch the Patriots at the Almeida, not realising that the central character Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander) was based on a real person. 🤦🏻 The penny drop moment came when a character previously referred to as 'The Kid' was introduced as Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon).
Peter Morgan's play follows Berezovsky from his position as an influential oligarch who helps to put Vladimir Putin (Will Keen) in power to public enemy and exile.
He has a clever mind, a sharp tongue and is not shy of dropping f-bombs. While his primary motivation, he tells us, is doing what is best for his country, his arrogance says something slightly different. And that arrogance blinds him or skewers his judgement and leads to his downfall.
Tom Hollander plays Berezovsky with wit and swagger; it is a star performance (he got a standing ovation at the end) but not a surprising performance.
Putin is the only other character that has some traction in the play and is expertly played by Keen. He really embodies the character presenting an uncanny likeness that is quite disconcerting.
It's similar for Thallon, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to the man he is playing. However, his character feels wasted, with little for Thallon to really get his teeth into, particularly given the meatier roles he's had recently (Camp Siegfried and After Life).
There are a whole bunch of other characters - mother, teacher, security guard etc - which don't really leave enough of a mark on the narrative to feel warranted.
Among them are a few tertiary female characters, which was a bit disappointing - we've had enough plays with women on the periphery.
At its heart is an interesting exploration of patriotism. Berezovsky and Putin say they are motivated by doing what is best for Russia but what they believe is best is very different and shaped by their personality and personal gain.
Laughs and F-bombs
There are laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of Berezovsky's sharp retorts, insults and often underpinned by a good dollop of F-bombs. Hollander's delivery of an F-bomb is to be applauded.
But this is also a serious, dark play that feels bogged down in unnecessary embellishments and extraneous detail. There is not enough to properly draw out the detail of the main characters and too much of everything else.
You can't help but make comparisons with James Graham's political plays (This House and Best of Enemies), which felt punchier.
I'm giving Patriots ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Patriots, Almeida Theatre
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Rupert Goold
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including an interval (this was during preview)
Booking until 20 August, for more details and tickets, visit the Almeida website
The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️