EXCLUSIVE: Peter Morgan, creator of award-winning The Crown, has shifted focus from royals to zoom in on Russian oligarchs as the topic of his new stage play Patriots. It has been fast-tracked to have its world premiere at London’s Almeida Theatre in July with Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) cast to portray Boris Berezovsky, a one-time ally of Vladimir Putin.
News of the play comes at a time when the rarified world of wealthy Russians is prominent because of the sanctions that have been imposed on Kremlin moguls following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I think when we did our first reading, we weren’t sure if there was a place for it,” Almeida Theatre artistic director Rupert Goold ,who will direct the play ,told Deadline, during an exclusive interview.
He said that there was an awareness in London “of a really big Russian presence in London, you know, with all those articles about Londongrad,” but until recent world events Russia “has always been this mystery state to us in some ways.” Goold suggested.
“But Russians have been central to a lot of our institutions,“ he said, noting that it would be disingenuous of cultural institutions not to recognize “that at some level.”
Patriots would explore on some level, Goold said, “the complicity and blindness of the West, and in Britain.”
Goold told Deadline that another reading was held in January, “and I think we all felt it would be great to get this on, but Peter was still in the thick of the season of The Crown, and then of course war kind of erupted and suddenly the play took on a whole different filter, I guess.”
The play is “absolutely” based on real events, in a similar style to Morgan’s earlier theatre work, Frost/Nixon and The Audience, said Goold.
Both of those stage pieces were exploited further : Frost/Nixon, which opened at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London’s Covent Garden, was adapted into a feature film in 2008, directed by Ron Howard.
Morgan has said that The Crown was inspired by The Audience.
However, Morgan is said to have disliked the experience of mounting The Audience in the spotlight of the commercial West End, hence his desire to go to the Almeida, an off-West End house, where Patriots can be developed in a quieter fashion.
Goold stressed that thus far, “There haven’t been any screen discussions, yet.”
Pushed on whether Patriots would have further life, Goold responded, “That would be fantastic.”
Tom Hollander was involved in early readings of Patriots, as was Will Keen (he played Michael Adeane, private secretary to Queen Elizabeth in the first 15 episodes of The Crown), who has been cast as Putin.
Yolanda Kettle (The Crown, Roadkill) has been cast as Marina Litvinenko, widow of Berezovsky’s comrade, Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector who was poisoned by Russian state operatives. Berezovsky supported Mrs. Litvinenko financially during the inquest into her husband’s death .
Luke Thallon, a smart up-and-coming thespian, has been chosen to portray billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, who’s been forced by UK government sanctions to sell Chelsea Football Club.
Berezovsky and Abramovich fell out over business matters which led to a bruising High court case, an encounter that which Berezovsky lost leaving him with court costs estimated at close to £100 million.
In 2013 he was found dead in a locked bathroom at his ex wife’s home in Berkshire .An inquest returned an open verdict.
Goold called the role “an amazing part” for Hollander. “Berezovsky was charming, mercurial, powerful…the kind of part that Tom likes to get his teeth into,” said Goold.
Patriots is not a play about Ukraine and the war, Goold stressed., “But it is about the mindset and the circumstances that brought this man (Putin) to power, ” Goold said.
The play is set in Russia and the UK.
Another play directed by Goold , written by Mike Bartlett, is on at the Old Vic. It’s called The 47th and it stars Bertie Carvel as former President Donald Trump
Goold directed that one,too. “They’re chalk and cheese plays,” said Goold.
“What’s awful – and compelling – about the last five years is that we’ve been dealing with individuals who are still able to shape history.”