In this one-man play starring Ibrahim Khan and written by American historian Howard Zinn, Karl Marx returns from the grave to defend his theories. He’s back. And he’s angry. But he’s also regretful. And caring – a loving father and devoted husband.
The play swings seamlessly from impassioned socialist diatribe to moments of sombre reflection, as we learn of life in the “cold, desolate” Soho apartment in which Marx lived with his family, pawning books and jewellery to pay the bills. These quieter moments elicit a great deal of sympathy for a man often portrayed as cold, distant, and hard-nosed. We hear of his daily walk through sewage which lined his street, his lifelong struggle with painful boils, and the loss of successive young children to avoidable disease. Particularly harrowing is his remembrance of sleeping on the floor next to his son’s body on the night that he died.
The pathos of these scenes is aided no end by the general impression of Marx as warm, friendly, and even funny. This is, in part, down to the script but the script is brought to life with an excellent performance from Ibrahim Khan. In the original, Marx is an old man, but Khan makes him a good deal younger and, without making any grand movements or bounding around the stage, comes across as full of energy and life, in the manner of an amiable host. Consequently, when his demeanour changes and he becomes passionate about the failures of capitalism, it is engrossing and genuinely stirring. The only thing to let him down is an occasional garbling of words, which interrupts the flow and causes some good lines to fall flat. When he gets it right, however, he is wonderfully convincing in his performance.
He is convincing too in his arguments. The play seeks to set right misunderstandings of Marx’s philosophy. Zinn recognised that the material can be dry; Marx has the line, “Is there anything more boring than reading political economy? Yes, writing it.” Fortunately, there is no attempt to explain the intricacies of surplus value, but rather a reasoned argument that modern economy has proved Marx right on many points. And though there is no discussion of topical events, the play feels extremely relevant in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the 99%. The play shows, though, that in a capitalist society his ideas never will be irrelevant; whether you agree with them or not.
**** (4 Stars)