Young Marx review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Rory Kinnear shines as the Bridge opens with this irreverent historical comedy

You don’t need a black belt in satire to detect a certain irony to the fact that Nicholas Hytner’s posh new theatre the Bridge is kicking off its life with a comedy about noted Marxist Karl Marx.

But it’s possible to labour the point. Sure, the Bridge is literally next door to a literal branch of the literal Ivy restaurant. And yes, the signature snack is a plate of freshly-baked interval madeleines. But it’s not dementedly fancy inside – the vibe is kind of upmarket arts centre – and some impressive feats of cantileverage mean the 900-seater is impressively egalitarian, with the £15 bottom price getting you a very decent view.

Potentially more offensive to ardent communists will be Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s play ‘Young Marx’, in which Rory Kinnear portrays the iconic philosopher as a shambolic piss artist. Stumbling drunkenly though the streets of Victorian Soho, he is a walking distaster, totally reliant on the continued goodwill of his wife Jenny von Westphalen (Nancy Carroll) and BFF Friedrich Engels (Oliver Chris).

Bean and Coleman are fairly sympathetic to Marxism, and during his occasional moments of lucidity Kinnear get some rather inspiring speeches. But it’s essentially an apolitical romp through the godfather of socialism’s naughty years.

Director Hytner has assembled something of a dream team, with Kinnear heading up a crack squad of familiar NT faces. It’s brilliantly cast and performed, with Kinnear tearing up the stage a treat as the selfish, self-absorbed, yet irresistibly plaintive and childlike Marx.

A couple of scenes are genuinely sublime: a massive ruck between Marx, Engels and the entire British Museum Reading Room; Marx being hysterically ungrateful after Engels reluctantly agrees to take responsibility for his lovechild with maid Nym (Laura Elphinstone). Hytner directs it all at a deft clip, the action taking place on Mark Thompson’s impressive revolving Victorian slum set, the brisk scenes intercut with stabs of rock guitar.

It is, no question, an excellent night’s entertainment. But it’s not a classic. The plot is rambling, packed with amusing titbits, but shapeless in and of itself (essentially it’s about Marx procrastinating rather than writing ‘Das Kapital’). Though the programme notes heave with contextualising detail, the play itself offers little information on Marx and Engels beyond this particular period (their reasons for being in England are only tangentially alluded to). Bean and Coleman have undoubtedly done their homework, but they don’t seem to have any great point to make about Marx. Squint hard and you could possibly argue that it’s playing with the idea of history repeating as farce, but there’s a slightly generic quality  – it’s Richard Bean doing a Victorian comedy, and it might not have been so different if it was, say, ‘Young Dickens’.

It's not the new ‘One Man,Two Guvnors’, but it doesn’t really have to be. It’s a big, confident, entertaining signifier that Hytner is back and the Bridge is open for business. It’s opium for the masses – but it’s good opium.


Users say (4)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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Rory Kennear is as charming and charismatic as he is exhaustingly self-centred as a young Marx, and surrounded by the other equally watchable characters, make it for a very fun evening laughing at the drunk shenanigans the young revolutionaries-to-be in (sadly still quite relatable) Victorian London. The play seems to be a really good start for the new Bridge Theatre, even if it seems ironic to make a point of the hardships of capitalism inside such an example of gentrification


I love Rory Kinnear. Love him. Love him so much I’d watch him read the shipping forecast, officially the world's dullest thing to listen to. My plan to see him on stage in London’s newest, brightest and shiniest theatre, the Bridge, as the lead character in ‘Young Marx’ was initially somewhat foiled by the fact the theatre doesn’t accept theatre tokens but saved in the end by the National Theatre’s utterly wonderful scheme of broadcasting shows live in cinemas across the country. The fact that the cinema in question here was the gorgeous Screen on the Green in Islington, a place that’s ten minutes from my front door and serves the greatest giant chocolate buttons known to man just made it even more perfect.

Droll, thought-provoking and intelligently written, this original piece of theatre from director & West End legend Nicholas Hytner and writers Richard Bean & Clive Coleman is, by turn, fiercely funny, moving and absolutely applicable to the world today despite being set in 1850. Marx and his partner-in-crime Engels are living, working (somewhat and sometimes), raising families and generally carousing through life in Soho whilst trying to write the texts that would start a revolution and become words to live by for millions of people generations later. 

As the titular Marx, Kinnear is wonderful. He’s complicated, exhausting but ultimately magnetic to those around him. He seemed more settled in the second half when his comic timing was impeccable - there are far more laughs post-interval – and the scenes with both his wife (Nancy Carroll) and girlfriend (Laura Elphinstone) are played brilliantly. I found wife Jenny to be the better written of the two main female roles with Elphinstone’s Nym a touch one dimensional at times but it was a pleasure to watch two very fine actresses dance around each other with an assured deftness. 

Almost as good as Kinnear is Oliver Chris as Marx’ friend & collaborator Engels, a more sympathetic character with a seemingly bottomless wallet and a heart in the right place. I don’t imagine it's an easy thing to do, to play against one of the UK’s finest actors, but Chris does it superbly, making him one of the most watchable people on stage.

The set is on the revolve and the score is quite thunderous and modern, both of these things helping to bring the period piece firmly into the modern times. Watching it requires concentration, something that the audience around me seemed delighted to do. As the first play to emerge from the Bridge, I thought this was a cracking piece of theatre, firmly setting the bar highly for future productions.


The cast in this production are all top notch. No weak links whatsoever. The set is simplistic and clever in its simplicity.

The story was more comical than I’d anticipated but that was a welcome surprise. Above all it’s the acting that stands out for this show. Definitely worth a look although I sense it’s one of those shows that impressed me in the moment but will not leave a lasting impression. A day later and I’ve already forgotten a lot of the content


Young Marx was a clever, funny bit of writing, brought alive by a brilliant cast. It felt like a glorious show with which to open the brand new Bridge Theatre.

Design-wise, the set is like a dolls' house, folding out on itself for interior scenes, and the music was perfect for the show: everything is polished and well-put together.

I'd definitely recommend this - and a trip to the Bridge Theatre - as the perfomances are living up (so far) to the beautiful new theatre!

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