When Karl Marx was laid to rest in the grounds of Highgate cemetery, his life-long companion and collaborator Friedrich Engels said “the greatest living thinker ceased to think”. However, if we’re to take Ben Blow and Matthew Jebb’s version of events, he didn’t do any thinking at all.
Engels! The Karl Marx Story is an irreverent look at the life of the Prussian revolutionary that’s liberal with the facts. Marx (Blow) is a whoring wastrel living in England during the 1848 revolutions and Engels (Jebb) is his long-suffering friend and financier. However, a request from the Communist League to write a manifesto sends them from London to the barricades of Les Miserables.
The play has a very simple set-up with black curtains, table and chairs, and rudimentary projections. This leaves the work completely at the mercy of the performances (all of which are highly amusing) and the script. While often very witty in its surreal way, the dialogue is more than willing to sacrifice depth to a cheap laugh. There are moments of potentially acerbic satire, yet more often than not, Blow and Jebb would rather pull a daft face. Still, this is a funny comedy about a famously staid theorist.