Young Marx at The Bridge Theatre

 

London gained a new theatre space on 18th October 2017 with the opening of The Bridge.  The man behind the project is former director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, whose earlier hits include Miss Saigon and The History Boys.

The theatre has been built entirely with private sponsorship, and Hytner’s confidence in its potential pulling-power is demonstrated by the decision to bring it to a location well away from theatreland on the south bank of the river in the shadow of Tower Bridge.

Hytner’s ambition for his first production, Young Marx, is clear; a repeat of the enormous success he made of One Man, Two Guvnors on the London and New York stage.  He has brought together the same team for Young Marx, with music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti, design by Mark Thompson, and Mark Henderson in charge of lighting.

The authors of One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean and Clive Coleman have given the life of the young Marx the same treatment they applied to their adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s One Man, Two GuvnorsGoldoni’s Seventeenth Century comedy of Venetian manners used many of the earlier traditions of the Commedia dell’Arte, with its stable of stock characters and convoluted plotting which revolve around mistaken identities and mismanaged, unruly human urges.

Like One Man, Two Guvnors, Young Marx relies on the conventions of farce and fast-paced bantz between characters.  But, while it was entirely reasonable to remodel One Man, Two Guvnors as a knockabout comedy for the twenty first Century, the attempt to pour the life of Marx into a similar mould is problematic.

If life is just one damn thing after another, propelling Marx through the contrivances of farce cannot reach a denouement where all the ends are tied together, and the stag-style dialogue can jar.  For Marx pawned his wife’s family silver behind her back, got his family servant pregnant and disowned their child and lost four children before they reached adulthood.  Such dismal facts are frequently at odds with the authors’ jaunty tone.

Bean and Coleman’s Marx is a
* …thirty-two-year-old revolutionary (who) is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.
and Rory Kinnear brings just the right level of brio and intensity to his performance of the role

Mark Thompson’s wonderfully ingenious set transports the audience from the streets of Soho, to Marx’s house, the British Library and Hampstead Heath, while Mark Henderson’s lighting achieves painterly effects.

The Bridge has a number of advantages over its Victorian and Edwardian cousins up West: a spacious, airy front-of-house for theatre-goers to refresh themselves in during the interval and an auditorium with great sight-lines and comfortable seating for nine hundred, while the women’s toilets provide exceptional accommodation and no queuing required.

Young Marx might not bring Hytner the success of One Man, Two Guvnors, but this new theatrical environment deserves a bright future.  I can only hope that some vigorous outreach and access to cheaper seats will attract a more diverse audience than the one I was in on the night I attended, which was dominated by the white, elderly and affluent.

 *Quote from the programme notes

Performances of Young Marx will continue until 31st December.  Details can be found at https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/young-marx/

Jane McChrystal © 2017.