This year, not one but two plays are coming to London’s West End that feature sinister and wealthy Jewish businessmen. One, The Lehman Trilogy, about the titular banking family, contains—as one critic put it—“subtle but pervasive intimations of the classic anti-Semitic tropes,” with the main characters’ Jewishness playing an “unsavory role,” in the words of another. The second, Patriots, is the work of Peter Morgan, who is best known as the main screenwriter of the Netflix series The Crown. John Nathan writes:
The Jew in Patriots is the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky (played by Tom Hollander), who died somewhat mysteriously in the UK after he fell out of favor with the Kremlin. The other Jew is [Roman] Abramovich (Luke Thallon), whose Jewishness is not as conspicuous as Berezovsky’s. This may be because he is less pivotal.
According to Morgan’s play, Putin would never have become president of Russia without Berezovsky. If that’s true we may extrapolate that Ukraine may never have been invaded, thousands would not have died, and (least of all) I would not be writing this swaddled in layers of a knitwear next to an open fire as part of our Dickensian attempt to keep heating bills down.
In Patriots, religious festivals come and go but if memory serves only the play’s Jews acknowledge them. This is, one assumes, intended to remind audiences that the central protagonist is a Jew. As were the Lehman brothers, big time. To illustrate this, founder Henry (played by the always excellent Simon Russell Beale in the original production) says “Barukh Hashem” a lot.
True in Patriots there is a Jewish mentor of the oligarch who has no interest in Berezovsky’s political and money-making ambitions. But then the Jew Tubal has no interest in Shylock’s objectives and that hasn’t stopped the cutting a pound of flesh being seen as a typically Jewish thing to do. In the Almeida’s production [of The Merchant of Venice], Patrick Stewart’s Shylock placed a kippah on his head to sharpen his knife.