Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre
From a commercial perspective launching the Bridge Theatre with Young Marx makes sense. It reunites much of the team behind smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, features acting royalty in Rory Kinnear and has a historic icon at its centre. But as an artistic statement of what a “21st-century theatre could and should be like” it disappoints
A quick word on the Bridge itself: it’s basically the National Theatre remixed. The space is an XL version of the Dorfman, with the revolve of the Olivier, the spirit of the Lyttelton and far comfier seats.
Karl has lost his revolutionary mojo. He’s a penniless political refugee in London, considering a job at Great Western – the horror! – in order to support his young family. Luckily, Freddie Engels (Oliver Chris, alternately caddish and scolding) has turned up with a fat wallet to try and get Marx to sit down and write his next book, Das Kapital.
The play drifts rather than drives forwards. Things certainly happen – co-writers Richard Bean and Clive Coleman make sure to throw in a dose of treachery and tragedy. And one could argue this slightly bougie Marx is, despite his financial circumstances, meant to characterise an elite out of touch with the people he seeks to represent. It’s just all so frivolous that any attempts at late drama fall flat.
This wouldn’t really matter if Young Marx was the thigh-slapper it’s positioned as. Instead, the play is filled with dreary slapstick, faux intellectual jokes and tame vulgarity. This could be rescued by a high energy central performance. Alas Kinnear isn’t really stretching himself here; Karl’s bolshie, witheringly articulate, and not much else. Even when something does land – like the spurts of a Marx/Engels music hall double act – it elicits light chuckles rather than belly laughs (polite tittering might be the most theatre sound in the world).
The root of the problem is that Marx is a bit of a (boorish) bore to be around. Bar a couple of jammed in speeches, this version of the great man could be any other womanising loudmouth (admittedly that might be the point). The ending suggests we’re meant to accept him for his genius – yet he’s a “lovable” rotter too light on the former and too heavy on the latter.
Obviously, it would be ridiculous to judge a theatre too harshly by its very first production; and one imagines Young Marx is exactly the kind of (ostensibly) people-pleasing show Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr wanted. It’s just so achingly un-bold – not to mention largely white and male – that the Bridge already feels like an extension of the West End rather than an exciting new prospect.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Young Marx is at the Bridge Theatre from 18th October until 31st December 2017. For further information or to book visit the Bridge Theatre website here.