Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Billed as a biographical non-biography, this is a journey into the soul of a woman betrayed by her famed husband, philosopher Karl Marx. It is an homage to all people trapped inside the delusion of what society tells them their limitations must be.
In 2004, Fountain (a plain white urinal) was described in the British press as “the most influential modern work of art ever”. It has always been attributed to French surrealist Marcel Duchamp and its appearance as an exhibit is commonly credited with creating one of those moments in the world which would jump start a new form of artistic expression, similarly in economics Karl Marx’s Das Kapital would birth revolutions. Only it is likely that Duchamp’s Urinal should be attributed to female artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Jenny Marx’s uncredited unstinting loyalty and practical household management made it possible for her globally famous husband to write the book that would change the world. Not only was Marx, ironically, hopeless with money but he was unfaithful with a least one other woman and denied paternity of their child. Behind every great man is truly a long-suffering woman.
Manifesting Mrs Marx reimagines Jenny’s pain at the infidelity and at the death of four infant children set against her great love for Marx. It also questions the role of the biographer, playwright and audience at colluding in the ‘silencing’ of Jenny or assuming they know how she would, talk, walk and behave. Clara Francesca is a (mostly) silent clown, a puppet with cut strings, or plays herself as the playwright and occasional a very loud and angry Jenny alter ego. Never mind breaking through the fourth wall, she smashes it in this exposé of the fakery of biographical theatre. At other times she is a tender mother, an eloquent champion of her husband’s bad poetry and misty-eyed romantic treasuring his love letters. It is an extraordinary performance from this talented actor with pin sharp timing and dizzying about turns between personalities.
The audience are engaged, cajoled and dismissed only to be brought back with the actor’s endearments. Credit due to the lightening reflexes of the tech box operator who snaps us in and out of blackouts with every sound and light cue nailed. The audience are also a bit bewildered; there are about 4 different plays in the piece jostling for position and it is frustrating that none gain prominence. There is a sense of a piece of theatre starting and restarting and starting over and then just as quickly the boxes within boxes are shut up and there we are at the end, not much wiser about Mrs Marx as an individual. Is this deliberate, to reinforce her shadowy figure in history?
In truth this piece of immersive theatre could equally be called the Daffodils of Dorothy Wordsworth, A Sonnet to Mrs Shakespeare or Elsa and the Urinal such is the long list of women whose potential value we have dismissed in praising their brother, husband or collaborator. You will not find out much about life of Jenny but you will experience the roller coaster of emotions from being ignored, rewritten, dismissed and abused while playing second fiddle to a much lionised man.