Theatre review: Engels! The Karl Marx Story, Edinburgh

Engels! The Karl Marx Story: Not nearly as funny as the company seem to think. Picture: Facebook
Engels! The Karl Marx Story: Not nearly as funny as the company seem to think. Picture: Facebook
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IN THE great brutalist 1970’s-style office-block that is St Margaret’s House, London Road, something new is taking shape.

Engels! The Karl Marx Story - Discover 21, Edinburgh

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Over the last few years, a group of young shoestring arts companies have taken up residence there, in a part of the building they call Arts Complex; and now, they have launched a new studio theatre space called Discover 21.

It’s the kind of initiative Edinburgh theatre needs, short as it always is of cheap, cheerful city-centre spaces for experimental work. Sadly, though, there’s nothing remotely experimental or radical about Ben Blow’s short four-handed student spoof Engels! The Karl Marx Story, the first play to appear in the newly renamed space. It explores the idea that Karl Marx was a drunken, violent, charismatic layabout, interested only in advancing his own reputation on the back of intellectual work carried out by his friend and cash-cow Friedrich Engels and Marx’s favourite prostitute, Molly Pinchbeck, a sharp political thinker.

Somewhere among the blizzard of half-baked jokes there might have been an interesting comedy about how Marxism differs from more moralistic forms of socialism; some of the acting is admirable, not least from Matthew Jebb as the long-suffering Engels, and Rowan Winter as several minor characters. In the end, though, this play is dedicated to the post-1980s notion that revolution is impossible, because people are basically monsters of selfishness and greed. It’s a reactionary idea, and a commonplace one, not nearly as funny as the company seem to think; they call themselves Unknown Quantity/Dubious Quality, and on this occasion, that tells you almost everything you need to know.