Young Marx review – ‘Fiercely comical, ingeniously designed’

Harry Hatwell reviews the triumphant Young Marx, the first production at London’s new Bridge Theatre

Copyright: Manuel Harlan Photography

A comedy about the life of the youthful Karl Marx may not appeal to everyone on paper, but Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s new play at the Bridge is subtly comical, fiercely
intelligent, and brilliantly performed.

We follow Marx (played with verve and energy by Rory Kinnear) through the streets of
London as he is chased by policemen, debt collectors, and bailiffs, not to mention his long-
suffering wife, Jenny (played by Nancy Carroll). Set a couple of years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, Bean and Coleman’s script doubles up as a beginners’ guide to Marxism with a number of references to ownership of the means of production.

Playing the famous political theorist’s long-suffering wife, Jenny von Westphalen, is Nancy
Carroll, who puts on simultaneously funny and feisty faces while struggling to protect
Kinnear’s character from the police and deal with his unfaithfulness to her.
Nicholas Hytner, famed for his direction of Miss Saigon and his artistic directorship of the
National Theatre, directs Young Marx. The Bridge is, of course, his new project along with
Nick Starr. Setting up a new producing house looking out onto Tower Bridge is a bold move, but the pair may well be onto something; a producing house specialising in new work and advancing the futures of modern-day playwrights rather than Shakespeare and Marlowe may well be the main avenue for showcasing new talent and attract the droves of office workers from the nearby More London complex.

While the décor of the interior, with carefully crafted fabric light shades, is impressive and
certainly well-suited for the well-to- do clientele, I did find it pretentious to say the least.
Perhaps if more conventional choices could have been made in the foyer design, seat prices
could have been reduced to avoid the hideously expensive £65 price-tag for the front row of the gallery. It must be said here, in fairness, that Hytner and Starr’s vision does take account of students: free access to an allocation of £15 tickets for each performance is available online.

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Bean and Coleman’s comic take on the life of Marx was rather refreshing to blow away the
horrors of Michaelmas, with Mark Thompson’s set adding to the excitement. A singular box
on a revolve stage takes the audience to the reading rooms of the British Library and the
rooftops of Soho. The inventiveness of the design is astounding.
Altogether, the Bridge represents an exciting time in London theatre, with a clear mission to champion new work and the artistic vision shared by Hytner and Starr, I highly recommend paying a visit. Young Marx, itself, delivered on a number of fronts: the script was highly-entertaining, the set was original, and the acting was superb. Hytner’s investment appears not to have been in vain.