The Young Marx by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman
at The Bridge Theatre
28th October, 2017
“I write down what I see. I’m a beta-plus. You’re an alpha, a bona fide genius, you prick.”
“I am the opposite of King Midas – everything I touch turns to debts”
Firstly, what a treat to come to a first new commercial playhouse, especially one conceived by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr. It is a splendid addition to the London scene: a flexible, impressive 900 seater auditorium designed by architects Steve Tompkins and Roger Watts,that manages to feel both spacious and cozy. The seating is surprisingly egalitarian, with the £15 bottom price getting you a very decent view. It will, as Hytner hopes, house a program of crowd-pulling new plays. For us the dram plays out the man behind the Manifesto, but that sits at odds with the comic-strip tone – no matter how snappily Hytner directs. It leaves the play caught between humanising Marx and lampooning him.
We meet the Young Marx (Rory Kinnear) soon after he arrives as a penniless political refugee in Victorian Soho. From the start, he is a walking disaster, totally reliant on the continued goodwill of his wife Jenny von Westphalen (Nancy Carroll) and best friend, Friedrich Engels (Oliver Chris).
Marx struggles to feed his children, nearly loses his wife (Nancy Carroll) and finds comfort in drink instead of in work. His penury means that the Peelers are always after him. In pantomime ritual, he’s shinnying up among the chim-ineys to make his escape, thereafter often found inside a cupboard whenever there’s a knock at the door. Marx thinks so much about money and its perniciousness, but has none himself but also realises that he badly needs it. Ironically, he can’t escape the system he loathes, because he has a wife and a child to support. So he’s bankrolled by Engels. So, it is capitalism that lifts the poverty that blighted his life. Engels and Marx present themselves like a music-hall double act, trading with insults and singing inappropriate songs.
Kinnear does play Marx with that Amadeus madness we often associate with geniuses, and uses it as a great vehicle for comedy, and he treats the more touching moments of the play with compassion. Chris’s Engels and Nancy Carroll’s Jenny are models of patient restraint, which makes their outbursts of anger the more powerful. Laura Elphinstone’s Nym is often the most intense and emotionally connected person on stage.
Overall, the play lacks dynamism and focus. Essentially, it is about Marx procrastinating rather than writing ‘Das Kapital’. Richard Bean’s and Clive Coleman’s writing is as sharp as ‘One Man,Two Guvnors’ and people-pleasing but not top marx.
Reservations aside, I hope the venue is successful.