Often on a student budget, the theatre feels like not only a treat but an intrusion into a wealthier, more glamorous world. It’s aspirational and exciting, but alienating too and sometimes I can’t help but wonder: what if theatre was more welcoming for everyone?
Enter the Bridge Theatre, the first major commercial theatre to open in London for 80 years. A Globe-style auditorium, with the audience seated around the stage, it’s flexible, elegant and accommodating.
Tickets start from £15, and while the bar prices are a little steep for students – and where in London aren’t they? – it’s the little details, such as a free cloakroom, drinking fountains with sparkling water on tap, and gorgeous bathrooms, that matter. Everyone gets a little bit more luxury.
How appropriate, then, that Young Marx is the first show in this new theatre. Starring Rory Kinnear as a 32-year old Karl Marx, a struggling father and political exile in London, it’s delightfully funny with a pleasing hint of revolutionary fervour.
Procrastinating, drinking, wasting time in the library, barely affording his London rent… I never thought I’d find Marx relatable, but writers Richard Bean and Clive Coleman manage to turn his mythic figure into a real, ordinary man. Kinnear brings an almost maniacal energy to the role, bouncing about the stage in and out of cupboards, over roof-tops and through the smoky streets of Soho.
Yet when that wild energy drops, it feels like a punch in the gut. The play’s darkest moments moved me almost to tears, so frail and wounded did Kinnear appear. No longer Marx the revolutionary legend, this was just Marx the man.
The classic elements of farce are all there, bolstered by a deliciously flexible and interactive set. A pawn shop, Marx’s living room, dingy London streets and more are variously created. The slightly unwieldy backdrop of Hampstead Heath is one of the play’s few wrong notes.
The cast have gorgeous chemistry. Marx and Engels (Engels and Marx!) form a hilarious dancehall partnership by the Marx family piano, and share tender moments of camaraderie framed by grimy brick walls. In the flat – cramped, shabby and emptied by bailiffs – he shares tender moments with his children, the maid and, in their own complex way, with his wife. And in a spectacular scene set in the British Museum reading rooms, an unexpected cameo gets one of the longest laughs I’ve ever seen in a theatre. (In-keeping with the theatre’s programme and advertising, I shall not reveal the character’s identity. Some surprises are best left that way.)
But perhaps the most striking thing about the play is how it finds revolution hiding in the mundane and the sad. In one of the most arresting moments of the play, Marx thanks a gravedigger for her labour and her contribution; a simple line which betrays an extraordinary care for the individual that cannot be eroded by circumstance. What a treat, then, to watch it in a theatre which offers a similar care to its audience.
Featured image: The Guardian.