7 December 2017

Young Marx at Michael Frayn Theatre was a successful experiment

Young Marx was something of an experiment for me as it was my first time at an NT Live broadcast. For some reason I had never been tempted to go to the local cinema to see shows but going to Michael Frayn Theatre, part of Kingston Grammar School's relatively new Queen Elizabeth II Performing Arts Centre, seemed more appropriate.

£10 was a modest price to pay for the experiment and that got me seat G3 which was more or less in the middle vertically and at the edge of the screen (not beyond it) horizontally. It was a perfectly good seat and the decent raking meant that the people in front of me were well clear of my sight line. In that respect the experiment was a complete success even before the show started.

Young Marx was broadcast live from the new Bridge Theatre. I had already booked to see a couple of shows there but Young Marx had not quite appealed enough for me to fork out theatre prices to see it in Central London. That was despite it coming from the team behind One Man, Two Guvnors and it starring Rory Kinnear. That combination was more than enough for me to pay cinema prices to see it locally.

Michael Frayn Theatre also had the advantage of being within walking distance though the early, 7pm, start time meant leaving the house around 6:25pm and walking briskly. That early start was to allow time for an interview with the director, Nicholas Hytner, to be broadcast before the show started. That was an interesting feature and it was also good to see a little of Bridge Theatre before my first visit there.

Young Marx was set in 1850 when a penniless Karl Marx and his family and maid were living in Soho. He was supported financially by Friedrich Engels but still hid from his many creditors, usually in a cupboard. Each welcome visitor to their small lodgings had their own distinctive knock that gave them access. These many visitors included their son's doctor and a syncopathic follower. Engles was keen for Marx to write but Marx was more interested in a visiting the eighteen pubs on Tottenham Court Road.

The story continued with lots of humorous dialogue and a fair smattering of slapstick. It was consistently funny if not outrageously so being constrained by historical facts from taking too fanciful liberties with the situation. The politics at times was used as a source of humour, such as in the opening scene where Marx questions the meaning of the word "value" with a pawnbroker, and at other times it was used to give us serious insights into Marxist philosophy, e.g. a worker is paid 1s but creates 3s value giving the exploitative capitalist 2s (he is right, of course). The accurate historical and political context gave the play an intellectual backbone that made it more satisfying than a simple comedy.

Young Marx was a lot of fun and and my experiment with NT Live was a great success. Future visits are being planned.

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