Inside Es Devlin’s Tony Award-winning set design for ​​’The Lehman Trilogy’

A glass box encapsulates fragility of American capitalism

Three-time Olivier Award-winning visionary Es Devlin has added to her cache of accolades, scooping the 2022 Tony Awards for her set design on The Lehman Trilogy.

Ben Powers’ adaptation of the Stefano Massini play has transfixed audiences worldwide with its creative energy and tale about the relentless rise and calamitous crash of American capitalism.

Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles in The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre. Photography: Mark Douet

Devlin’s set for The Lehman Trilogy references Henry Lehmans’ description of the mechanical music box, set in motion upon his arrival in New York. On stage, a rotating glass box manifests as a mid-century office, its boardroom vocabulary setting the scene for the unfolding tragedy. Digital backdrops provided by video designer Luke Hall create a zoetrope-like effect, reflecting the narrative which weaves between continents and through nearly two centuries of Lehman lineage, culminating with the financial crash of 2008.

Devlin describes the dynamic set as ‘the fourth dancer’ within the play, its skeletal glass-and-steel box driving the action from the rural cotton fields of Alabama to the unrelenting markets of Wall Street.

She still has the handwritten notes the play’s director, Sam Mendes, scribbled in black marker that formed the beginning of her design process stuck to her studio wall.

Animate the idea Make concrete the shape of history... Understand the order present in chaos Understand in your head... because you can feel it in your gut Reveal the simple human needs behind the creation of complex human system
Sam Mendes’s note. Via Es Devlin

However, Devlin’s success is not the showmanship that most might know her for – after all, this is the woman who envisaged the 2012 London Olympics ceremony, jaw-dropping stage installations for Kanye West, Beyoncé, and most recently, the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Instead, Devlin’s work on The Lehman Trilogy is an exercise in clever restraint. Her design is versatile but minimal. Its simplicity gives space to the narrative, emphasises the poetry of every prop and line spoken, and brings deeper immersion in the world presented on stage.

As well as earning Devlin Best Scenic Design of a Play, The Lehman Trilogy was nominated for a staggering eight Tony Awards, winning Best Play, Leading Actor and Best Director. It will return to London’s West End in January 2023 for a limited run.


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The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre. Photography: Mark Douet
Adrian Lester, Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley in The Lehman Trilogy. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

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