Two shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe took forbidding political giants as their theme. The first, Engels! The Karl Marx Story by Ben Blow and Matthew Jebb, centres around the story of how the factory owner’s son Friedrich Engels bankrolled his somewhat dissolute friend.
Audience members hoping for 50 minutes of “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” are disillusioned at the start when we meet the co-authors of the Communist Manifesto sitting at a table. Marx has a gun in his mouth and, it soon becomes apparent, is being serviced under the table by a Manchester prostitute, Molly (Rowan Winter). It then turns out that Molly wrote most of the manifesto. I have no idea if Jebb and Blow are members of any Marxist sect but, if they are, it is safe to assume that they’ve been expelled by now.
If Engels! presents Marx as a man only too keen to take credit for other people’s work, Kevin Toolis’s The Confessions of Gordon Brown portrays a man not very keen on letting anyone else do anything at all. Ian Grieve gives a towering performance as Brown, seemingly frozen in time at 5.40am and waiting for his staff to arrive at 6am so that he can shout at them.
He is fixated by the example of his father and the motto of his old school, Kirkcaldy High: “I strive to my utmost.” Toolis should be congratulated for giving us a rounded picture of a man formed by power rather than resorting to caricatures of New Labour. It is the best depiction of the dreadful fate of being at the top since Michael Frayn’s portrayal of Willy Brandt in Democracy.
“The Confessions of Gordon Brown” will be at Trafalgar Studios, London SW1, between 3 and 28 September