Young Marx Is A Disappointing Start For London's Newest Theatre

Young Marx, Bridge Theatre ★★★☆☆

Young Marx Is A Disappointing Start For London's Newest Theatre Young Marx, Bridge Theatre 3
London Theatre Company Bridge Theatre photo by Philip Vile

There’s a real sense of occasion at the opening night for Young Marx in the Bridge Theatre, former NT-director Nick Hytner’s £12 million baby set in a glamorous and upscale precinct around the southern end of Tower Bridge.  The audience is also polished and more Hampstead or Islington than West End. In fact, it’s a bit like the National has been privatised and shrink-wrapped into this handsome 900-seat flexible-layout auditorium.

London Theatre Company Bridge Theatre photo by Philip Vile

£12m of Das Kapital investment doesn’t actually seem a lot — the deluxe apartments upstairs are around £3.6m for a 2-bed. So to deliver for the price of four flats such a glossy, acoustically excellent full-scale theatre — the first built in London since the Prince of Wales opened, also on the 27 October (1937) — is a major achievement.  No wonder the sponsors are already thinking of rolling out the concept elsewhere.  There’s acres of space to potter about in the interval, and the theatre bar must be the longest and most well-staffed of any in the city.

So it’s a bit of a shame that the opening production — although cast and staged as though it were along the river at the National — isn’t quite the equal of the venue.

Laura Elphinstone (Helene 'Nym' Demuth), Rory Kinnear (Karl Marx), photo by Manuel Harlan

It’s a clever idea by Richard Bean, to envision a story set when Karl Marx was an impecunious migrant living in the ‘squalor’ of Dean Street in Soho, caught between the pawnbrokers and the bailiff in a hand to mouth existence, and to pair him with his future political ally Friedrich Engels in a sort of knockabout turn like Morecambe and Wise, with a sidelong glance at the actual Marx Brothers.  But despite the best efforts of the cast (Rory Kinnear, Oliver Chris, no expense spared) it doesn’t fly off the page like Bean’s earlier One Man, Two Guvnors.  

Rory Kinnear (Karl Marx), photo by Manuel Harlan

Kinnear’s Marx comes over as an irreverent rogue and a pisshead: although devoted to his family, and eagerly to their pert maid played with Geordie dry wit by Laura Elphinstone, even in their abject poverty his ambition is ‘to have a pint in every pub in Tottenham Court Road’.

In 1850, there were 21.

Young Marx, Bridge Theatre, £15-£65, until 31 December2017.

Last Updated 30 October 2017