This new play reunites Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, the team behind one of the biggest smashes in recent times – One Man, Two Guvnors.
It was chosen to launch The Bridge, the first major new commercial theatre to be built in London for 80 years. Bridge founder Nicholas Hytner (who ran the National Theatre for 12 years) also directs Young Marx.
The play spotlights Marx as he was in 1850 – a 32-year-old German Jew living in exile on Soho’s Dean Street with his aristocratic wife, Jenny, their children and a devoted maid.
Hounded by creditors, sought by the police, spied on by Prussian agents, suffering from writer’s block and at odds with many of his fellow revolutionaries, Marx largely survives through the beneficence of his friend, Friedrich Engels.
The play follows many of Marx’s exploits of the time including pawning Jenny’s silver heirloom, without her knowledge, drinking binges, womanising and even a duel. It also deals with betrayal and a personal tragedy.
To escape the police and the ever present debt collectors he runs over rooftops and hides in a cupboard in his kitchen.
While the play highlights Marx’s, often humorous, self-indulgent lifestyle there are references to his beliefs which eventually appear in Das Kapital. At a meeting with revolutionaries he argues passionately that revolution in Britain will come through an economic crash rather than through acts of random violence. We also learn how his experiences at the time influenced his future writings.
London critics were divided on the merits of the play but all, understandably, praised the lead actors.
Rory Kinnear brilliantly portrays Marx as a highly intelligent and memorising intellectual who is also emotional and selfish. He’s also a pretty awful husband! Oliver Chris as the aristocratic yet revolutionary Engels is equally believable. Nancy Carroll as the long-suffering, put-upon Jenny and Laura Elphinstone as the devoted maid are other standouts.
These performances, together with the chance to learn more about a young Karl Marx (taking the writers at their word that much of the play is based on fact) ensures watching National Theatre Live’s screening of Young Marx is an enjoyable and educational experience.
As an added bonus the production includes an interview with Hytner who provides an insight into both the play and his new theatre.
National Theatre Live’s screening of Young Marx is showing at selected cinemas from March 17. Visit Sharmill Films for screening details.
*Photo credit: Manuel Harlan
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