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Marx in Soho,
Riddles Court, Edinburgh
HOWARD ZINN’S 1999 play is not just a provocative resurrection of Karl Marx for modern times — it has created a highway for multiple Karl Marxes to appear — as a bearded impersonator and an afro’d black worker in US productions — and this incarnation comes with a brilliant twist: Marx comes back as a woman.
Mary Myers performs Marx with no make-up and no beard, just a suit and the shuffle of an elderly intellectual, but she summons the presence of the man with compelling virtuosity.
You just watch her eyebrows, and every other detail fills itself in. And this new spin takes the play on an exhilarating ride, and adds an extra layer of subversiveness.
She plays all the women — notably Marx’s wife Jenny and his daughter Eleanor — as taller than the man himself, and more than a match for the family patriarch. It emphasises the way that gender struggle has been at the heart of Marxist emancipation from the first moment he set pen to paper.
The scene in which the 15-year-old Eleanor upbraids her aghast father for associating capital with Jewishness is a revelation that speaks directly to socialists today.
The women have a steady dignity, and the men appear slightly ridiculous, whether the tiny human dynamo of Marx himself, or the gigantic buffoonish figure of Mikhail Bakunin, Marx’s anarchist sparring partner.
It is testament to the genius of Myers’s performance that you watch just one woman, but you see Marx and Bakunin wrestle drunkenly, flinging punches with every counter-argument, while Jenny and Eleanor spectate.
The play tells movingly how Marx struggled with poverty as he wrote in London, but at its heart is Marx’s astonished celebration of the Paris commune, when government was replaced by the spontaneous self-organisation of people.
No more rent, easy as that. You feel exhilarated and grateful for the history lesson.
If I have a quibble, it is that Myers’s Marx is so engaging and so honest, that I wanted to know what he made of the 2008 financial crash.
That’s how dialectical the play really is: you want to argue it out, into the present and into the future.
But I can only recommend this outstanding performance of a thrilling play.
If Dario Fo, the great left-wing playwright, had resurrected Marx to tell us why he wrote Das Kapital, he would have done it like this.
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