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  • Alistair Braidwood

On The Wings Of Engels: A Review of Scottish Opera's Marx in London!...

Alasdair Elliott as Friedrich Engels: 📸 Credit James Glossop

Karl has long been my favourite Marx, just pipping Groucho and Richard, so it was with a sense of great anticipation that I attended Scottish Opera's UK premiere of Jonathan Dove and Charles Hart's Marx In London!.

I have learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to Scottish Opera's productions, but this was the company at their very best. The Terry Gilliam-esque stage was set beautifully, with rooms within rooms, moving street scenes, furniture which was up, down, and flying around (some of the chorus - more of whom later - literally had to do the heavy lifting), and so much more. The inventiveness and creativity on show was awesome, and mention must be made of the lighting design of Rory Beaton, the stunning video design of PJ McEvoy, and the overall design of Yannis Thavoris. I won't go into further detail here as I don't want to spoil anything for you, but you are in for such a visual, as well as aural, treat.

The performers had the perfect backdrop to shine, and they grabbed the opportunity with aplomb. At times there was so much going on on stage in terms of singers and song you had to work hard to keep track, but that work would pay off in spades. There was high farce to rival Brian Rix (there's a reference for the teenagers!) with people climbing in and out of windows, secret assignations, hiding in chests, police chases, as well as mistaken identity, maguffins, and entendres that were often barely single never mind double. Not quite 'Carry On Communism', but heading in that direction.

Here's the trailer:

The cast were superb across the board, and while it feels wrong to pick favourites, Roland Wood gave us a complex Karl Marx, at times loud, lusty, generous and gallus, but also serious of thought and intent. He managed to convey the best and worst of this Marx, and still keep the audience on side. His wife Jenny (Orla Boylan) made an entrance which will live long in the memory, arriving on stage like a corseted steam train, resplendent in purple and leaving us in no doubt this was a woman of substance and stature. Although her role was mostly to drive the plot along (her 'borrowed' silver at the heart of much confusion and comedy) you couldn't take your eyes off her when she was on stage.

But for me two performances stole the show - Alasdair Elliott as Frederich Engels and Rebecca Bottone as Marx daughter Eleanor 'Tussi' Marx (the former, admittedly, in no small part due to his fabulous clothes and accoutrements). Bottone's 'Tussi' in particular was a wonderful whirlwind in thought and deed, desperate to meet a dangerous man who could match her passion - a gunslinger, or especially a spy, would fit the bill. Her scenes with William Morgan's mysterious 'Freddy' were definite highlights, with a journey through the streets and skies of London simply breathtaking.

The chorus must also get a mention. Directed by Susannah Wapshott, their rousing call to arms which closed Act One was moving and powerful, and brought Marx's ideology to the fore. By linking workers and campaigners throughout the ages (there was a nurse in present-day scrubs among them) you were left in little doubt that behind this man, whose faults were there for all to see, was serious thought and commitment.

You may have pre-conceptions about a show which focuses on Karl Marx and his family's troubled time in London, but you can leave them at the door. This was as entertaining as a night at the theatre gets - warm, witty, and often wild, but still managing to make you think as you laugh and applaud. Simply capital!

Below are some images from the show - 📸 Credits James Glossop

Marx In London! is at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow on 15th and 17th February and at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh on the 22nd and 24th February


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