Friday, 27 October 2017
Review Young Marx
by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman
Kapital, My Dear Karl, Kapital!
Hey, it's Young Marx at the new Bridge Theatre, hot on the heels of Young Frankenstein over at The Garrick! The first season at London's latest theatre, a commercial venture but springboarded, some might say, from advantages gained at the publicly funded National Theatre.
This new play by former stand up and writer of One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean and BBC legal correspondent cum playwright Clive Coleman takes seriously Marx's dictum, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce". Even if the shift in tone to tragedy is in reverse order and comes quite late in Young Marx.
Before that huge beard, Prussian-born "the Jew" Karl Heinrich Marx (Rory Kinnear) is living in London in 1850 with his aristocratic wife Jenny Von Westphalen (Nancy Carroll) and their two young children, frail Guido, known as Fawksy, (played on alternate nights by Logan Clark, Rupert Turnbull or Joseph Walker) and feisty piano-playing little Jenny (Dixie Egerickx, Matilda Shapland or Harriet Turnbull). Also with last, but certainly not least, a loyal maidservant (Laura Elphinstone).
Constantly on the breadline, Marx is also constantly one step ahead - often by hiding in cupboards! - of a Prussian spy (Fode Simbo), London bobbies (Joseph Wilkins as Sergeant Savage), the family's landlord and the bailiffs, pawning his wife's family's silver.
Meawhile he and his friend,wealthy industrialist patron and fellow political philosopher Friedrich Engels (Oliver Chris) form a political and (almost) a musical hall double act.
Hm, TLT prides herself as a reviewer with both a bourgeois and proletarian sense of humour (Yes! All at the same time!). My, how she and her exploited but cooperative automotive sidekick laughed many years ago when they read a cartoon version of Marxist philosophy.
Young Marx tries awfully hard to be funny and there are also plenty of facts and pseudo-facts (as far as nittypicky TLT is aware, the allegation of an illegitimate child's paternity is unproven and, while Marx is commonly regarded as Jewish, he was a baptized Lutheran).
Obviously the story does insert details which are specific to the Marx household and its economy but over two hours and 20 minutes, we did wonder if other famous people could be inserted and loose and fast "facts" changed with little difficulty.
Young Dickens, for example, dashing like Bill Sykes over the roofs of Mark Thompson's rather fetching three-dimensional revolving set, complete with swirls of smoke from the chimneys. A Tiny Tim in Karl and Jenny's little boy Fawksy and Dickens's lover Nelly Ternan as the bit on the side? Yes, it's a different story (Marx stayed with his wife) combining fact and fiction, but somehow, there is something template-ish about this piece.
Indeed Young Marx struck us as more of a series of sketches, a League of Marxist Gentlemen, very well-acted, given pace by Nicholas Hytner's direction and the music of Grant Olding. But nothing particularly hilarious and side-splitting or insightful.
There was only one point where we really thought there going to be a humorous lift off with satiric bite - the arrival of a whelk stall owner gving a telling dissection of how she is bound in a torturous (read: privatised) economic supply chain. However, like Oliver Twist, we waited for more which never came.
Still, it's a spacious, airy, pleasant new building on the South Bank and there's an extensive future programme of new writing including the talented Barney Norris's Nightfall and, next, its first foray into the classics with a promenade version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. So plenty to look forward to but needs dictate we give our verdict on Young Marx and it's an amber light.