The writer of “The Crown” takes on Putin and the oligarchs

From The Economist:

In retrospect, would Boris Berezovsky agree that the Russian privatisation scheme of the mid-1990s was unfair? The questioner had in mind the way a few insiders took over vast industrial assets for a song, a giant scam that helped discredit markets and democracy among their struggling compatriots. Absolutely it was unfair, replied Berezovsky, who in 2000 had sought refuge in Britain, where the exchange took place: Mikhail Khodorkovsky got more than he did.

Mr Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, spent a decade in prison before his release into exile in 2013; Berezovsky died in contested circumstances in the same year. Both numbered among the original Russian oligarchs: a small cadre of men who grew up in the Soviet era and in the bare-knuckle 1990s became more rich, more quickly than almost anyone ever had. They brought their feuds to London, along with their wealth, in some cases eventually losing much of it. They lived many lives in one, all of them dramatic. Now Peter Morgan has written a version of that drama.

The star turn, though, is Will Keen as Putin. The stage is shaped like a nightclub bar, and for a while Putin sits on a low stool, unnoticed, before—literally and symbolically—Berezovsky yanks him up and into the action. Mr Keen mimics the snarl and seething menace of a hangdog who wants to be top dog. During his traceless rise from deputy mayor of St Petersburg to fsb boss, prime minister and then the presidency, Putin’s nervy strut becomes a swagger, the posture hardens inside his better-cut suits. The heart dies.

It didn’t have to be this way. That is one message of “Patriots” (in which, for almost everyone, patriotism and self-interest are fused). Cornered on press night, Mr Morgan said the tragedy of his play lay not in Berezovsky’s fate but in the miscalculation he made in elevating Putin, a mistake with still-spiralling consequences. Live and organic, theatre is the perfect art form to capture this feeling of contingency, the vertiginous sense that history turns on moments and decisions that might have gone differently.

Link to the rest at The Economist