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Theatre Review Poignant tribute to the foremother of socialist feminism

Eleanor Marx: the Jewess of Jews Walk
The Sydenham Centre

THE ONLY Marx to acknowledge the family’s Jewish roots, Eleanor Marx lived on Jews Walk, Sydenham, at the twilight of her life and Lucy Kaufman’s new play sheds a spotlight on the last few months of her time there and her relationship with common-law husband Edward Aveling.

The foremother of socialist feminism, an internationalist, trade unionist, her father’s first biographer and editor of his key works, she was the first translator of Madame Bovary and a pioneer of the works of Henrik Ibsen in London of the end of the 19th century.

Kaufman’s precise and moving writing brings to life this giant of the British left, portrayed in an extraordinary performance by Sarah Whitehouse. On stage for most of the play, she shows immense versatility in depicting Marx's emotional journey. “You make your own laws,” she is told at one point and the dilemma between her struggle for equality and the deeply unequal society in which she lives is the focus of the narrative.

Whitehouse is supported by a very strong cast of David Sayers as Aveling, Kirsten Moore as Getty Gentry — Marx’s maid who was also her friend and a close support at the end of her life — Simeon Oakes as Eleanor’s half brother Freddy Demuth and Robert Maskell as Dr Shackleton, who assumes different functions as the story unfolds.

This fascinating play, directed by Jonathan Kaufman, brings into the limelight the contradictions of Marx’s life. Her relationships show the complexity of fighting the patriarchy. “Women are the creatures of an organised tyranny of men, as the workers are the creatures of an organised tyranny of idlers,” she declares and the patriarchy, in all its manifestations, makes this a moving tale of the price inequality and injustice claims of us all.

Her radicalism remains an inspiration.

Runs until May 12, box office: spontaneousproductions.co.uk

 

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