Chetham’s Library, Manchester
02 June 2018
Rampant capitalism has turned the UK into a cesspool where the working class has been reduced to serfs, public services have been sold-off and stripped of all assets and the ruling class laugh at the rest of us. One imagines that if Karl Marx, who developed The Communist Manifesto, was to return today he would simply say ‘I told you so’ but that would make for a very short play.
Marx in Soho allows the philosopher to do a deal in the afterlife that secures his return to earth in the present day. However, Howard Zinn was an American author best known for A People's History of the United States so inevitably, a bureaucratic error ensures Marx ends up in Soho in the USA rather than London. Many of the events described in the play, that demonstrate how little things have changed for the working class in the 200 years since Marx’s birth, are taken from the USA but in a time of global awareness this is hardly a barrier to communication and the shocking lack of progress is powerful and stark.
Marx in Soho gives the philosopher the chance to put the record straight; sole performer Bob Weick makes clear that Karl Marx is not a ‘Marxist’ and is appalled at the repressive actions of regimes that claim to follow his doctrines. The script is a masterclass in clarity and brevity with complex political and economic theories set out in a succinct manner. Zinn even takes the opportunity to correct popular misconceptions setting out the full ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ quote to suggest that Marx accepted, on occasion, some comfort is necessary to endure hardship.
This is very much a play about Marx as a person so much as a revolutionary writer. The philosopher’s chaotic and squalid home is brought to life complete with marital discord and a daughter who drank, smoked and was a political agitator from age eight. In addition to serving as examples of the harsh living conditions endured by most of the population the approach allows the introduction of Marx’s family specifically his wife who helps explain how his complex ideas might be best communicated.
Bob Weick clearly relishes the chance to humanise Marx and has a gleam in his eye and lively bounce to his step as he takes to the stage. This is a Karl Marx who likes a drink and is a martyr to his piles. It is a hugely likeable performance miles removed from the idea of Marx as someone obsessed with dry economic theories. Weick offers a character whose foremost concern is the human cost of capitalism showing how Marx’s philosophy was developed out of the decay and wasted lives that he observed on a daily basis from his home. Weick also captures Marx as an orator with beautifully delivered speeches that become rousing calls-to-arms showing the passion behind the theories.
This performance of Marx in Soho took place in Chetham’s Library in Manchester where Marx and Engels actually developed their theories. It is unlikely that other venues on the tour will be as atmospheric but they will offer a chance to see a literate script enacted in a powerful and moving manner and to glimpse the man behind the legend.
Reviewer: David Cunningham