A brand new theatre opening in the heart of London - the first wholly commercial space to open since the ‘70s, in fact - is very exciting. Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s latest venture the Bridge Theatre, which is located on the picturesque riverside by Tower Bridge, proves the rude health theatre in the capital is in, and the appetite for more.
The inaugural production reunites director Hytner with One Man, Two Guvnors writer Richard Bean with Young Marx. Rather fittingly, the play takes place in the heart of London, inside the run-down Dean Street home of Karl Marx (Rory Kinnear). The family struggle for money, and the eccentric Marx is forced to hide in a cupboard in the corner of the room whenever there is a knock at the door, whether it be the bailiffs or a bobby. Friedrich Engels, however, can see this man’s genius, and would worship the ground he walks on.
As a German refugee in London, Marx and his German counterparts are hungry for a revolution. But they are conflicted over whether to take the violent route or, as Marx pushes for, to wait for the markets to crash, and use that as a spark for revolution. Just one of his, at the time, outlandish ideas for which he gained the admiration of those around him.
But while this play deals partly with those politics, it delves into Marx’s private life. Rather than facing his problems, he’d rather drink a pint in every pub on Tottenham Court Road, and that strains a marriage.
Really, this is a Marx-themed sitcom. There are bursts of Marx the Genius, but they’re often just that: bursts. Pacy, erratic and sometimes difficult to keep up with. But that’s okay, because it’s more of a comedy. Well, other than a couple of humorous glimpses at 'Marx and Engels: The Double Act (they have a theme tune and everything), a short-lived fight scene in the British Museum, and the odd line about the newly founded police force in London here or there, it’s not all that funny.'
Kinnear does play Marx with that 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. Like a stranger in the night, he climbs the roofs of designer Mark Thompson’s giant townhouse, which revolves scene to scene, aiding Hytner’s slick direction. But the chugging punk rock interludes only add to this sitcom vibe.
Oliver Chris is a lot of fun as the chic, wealthier Engels, who is often the voice of reason. And there is a lot of truth in the history this play, it’s a deep dive into the personal lives of these two great minds. But with the great thinking shoe-horned in, and the jokes not really hitting the mark, Young Marx needs a little more definition.