Tuesday, 21 November 2017
Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre
If you go to Young Marx expecting the laugh bombardment you got at One Man Two Guvnors, you could be disappointed. But go with an open mind and the realisation is that Richard Bean and Clive Coleman have crafted a play with very witty and clever dialogue that provides, if not belly laughs, then certainly entertainment.
This being the first production at a brand-new London theatre situated south of the river, it would be remiss of me not to air my thoughts and I have to say that I have no reservations whatsoever. The Bridge Theatre (the love child of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr) is a triumph. Its situation, river side and overlooking Tower Bridge is perfect and, as is to be expected from two theatrical stalwarts, its flexible configuration is not only excellent, but aesthetically pleasing. Plus, and it’s a big plus, there are many more female loos than we women are used to in a theatre - hurrah! Oh, and I must not forget to mention the leather trimmed seats, which are comfy and provide masses of leg room. We theatre goers visiting this big, bright space are definitely travelling first class rather than economy. Let’s hope and pray that the unsubsidised The London Theatre Company (the theatre’s resident company) manage to realise all their plans to open more theatres and transfer productions far and wide.
Nick Hytner directs Young Marx and has assembled a great cast led by Rory Kinnear, Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll. The play is a farce set in Soho in 1850 highlighting the shenanigans of the young, newly arrived refugee, Karl Marx (Kinnear) who is a bit of a lad, to put it mildly. Work shy and prone to boozing far too much, Marx leads his long- suffering wife, Jenny (Carroll), a not so merry dance. There is no doubt that he loves her and adores his sickly young son, Guido and musical daughter, Jenny Caroline but this doesn’t stop him straying into the arms of the family’s maid, Helene (Laura Elphinstone). Marx’s side-kick and “brother-in-arms” is the wealthy and, it has to be said, lascivious Friedrich Engels (Oliver Chris) who is often called upon to bail out his cash stricken, co-author of the Communist Manifesto.
However, the main visitors to the Marx’s family hovel are the peelers or bailiffs, who at one point strip the sitting room/kitchen almost bare. Not that Marx is always privy to their visits, hiding as he often does in the cupboard for fear that he might be marched off to the local nick. Mark Thompson’s revolving set evokes the grittiness of this Dean Street dwelling, both inside and out and I love the way the set allows the actors to chase each other over the rooftops.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rory Kinnear give an undiminished performance and the same is true here. His bearded, grubby Marx, who suffers from boils on his bottom, is forever in the zone, whether he be casually lambasting Jenny with verbal cruelty, getting into a punch up in the British Library, chatting up Helene or boisterously playing with his children. He is also able to depict Marx’s many contradictions with ease. He may be a political visionary but is also a blatant scrounger who is constantly daydreaming and trying to hide his self-doubt. Oliver Chris is equally affecting and, along with Kinnear, brings to life the two men’s friendship, whether it be as one half of a Victorian Flanders & Swan double act, or the permanent human cash point machine. He is a more sympathetic character than Marx but with no hint of saccharine. Everyone else in the case provides top notch support, especially Nancy Carroll and Laura Elphinstone.
The play isn’t overly concerned with portraying Marx’s obviously brilliant mind, concentrating instead on trying to demystify him. We are given a hint that he was a brilliant analyst in a powerful scene that allows Kinnear to momentarily take a breather from all his toing and froing, but this is not the main thrust of the play. We just have to believe what Engels says, “You’re an alpha, a bona fide genius, you prick!” All I can say is that what Young Marx does do is humanise the man in a very humorous way.