Brighton Fringe 2018
Marx in Soho is a 1999 solo show about the life of Karl Marx. The play imagines Marx returning to earth in the present to “set the record straight”. In the hands of expert performer Bob Weick the play not only offers a defence socialism but also domestic insights into the life of the man himself in a superbly sustained performance.
Performer Bob Weick says “because Karl Marx was born nearly 200 years ago it doesn’t negate the relevance of what he had to say”. The late American historian and activist Howard Zinn wrote this play to “show Marx as few people knew him, as a family man, struggling to support his wife and children”, but clearly intended to be more provocative than that. Zinn was fired from his first university professorship for insubordination and radicalising his students… his writing is impassioned, contemporary and persuasive and is matched here at the Brighton Fringe by Weick’s assured performance. ‘Marx in Soho’, written in 1999 about a man who lived 150 years ago is, indeed, deeply relevant today.
Zinn’s play has ‘Marx’ discuss the issues of the day with his wife Jenny: “the Irish struggle for freedom, the latest war, the stupidity of the country’s leaders… I suppose things are different these days?”. We laugh. We agree with him as his argument is wrapped in universal truths. You could say he is preaching to the converted, or that we’ve heard it all before, but we sit there politely, we listen, we nod sagely, we smile when he compares resistance to like having a “boil on our bottom”, begs us to imagine it, that we can’t sit down, that we have to stand up, to take action against the undeniable injustices of the world. The “converted” quietly giggle at the picture in our minds… and stay rooted to our seats. For this is more than comic imagery. This ‘Marx ‘is not just railing at our leaders, at our politics, but at us, our inaction, our tolerance, our acquiescence in not challenging the status quo, our apathetic acceptance of ‘capitalism’ in the hope that, whilst we flounder in the mire of poverty, we can still dream that one day we might be a contender. As homelessness in our streets hits epidemic proportions many will tut and agree in their coffee houses that it’s awful and somebody should do something, but how many rise and take action? Zinn’s text makes powerful contemporary comparisons reinforced by Weick’s performance as he breaks the fourth wall, engages us directly and shakes a front page picture of The Donald at us…
Bob Weick’s performance as Marx is exemplary. This piece is perhaps not for everyone, it is arguable that this is not a play but a socio-political monologue, a biography on stage, but an audience with some compassion, life experience or of an enquiring nature will be held throughout. One lighting cue in an otherwise unbroken speech is some feat of concentration and skill. Weick has been performing this play for fourteen years and has clearly grown into it. This is no stilted impersonation, no sense of tired repetition but a living embodiment of the role, naturalistic, hugely committed and always engaging. The words pour out, but as the “elephant” of Das Kapital becomes too weighty he pauses, smiles, twinkles at us as he introduces his waspish wife, Jenny, or quick witted daughter, Eleanor, to challenge him, or reduce his argument to a pithy slogan. The timing is impeccable, the sonorous, reverberating voice matching the material but then rising in pace, energy, pitch and tone as each point is eloquently made. An experienced, poised performer, sensing his audience, in complete control of his material.
A thoughtful, poignant evening and an outstanding individual performance… of relevance to those who know Marx as the domestic angle offers an entertaining and insightful take on the man himself, but also to those who know less. Approach it with an open mind and you will find this show deeply insightful and even rousing. There is much to be discovered here from the words of Marx interpreted by a wise, learned and witty writer and performed by a masterful story-teller. It is a rare treasure at the Fringe to see such informed, discerning and articulate material so expertly crafted, presented by Philadelphia’s social justice inspired company Iron Age Theatre and performed by an international artist of presence, weight and gravitas. Theatre of and for the world. Outstanding.