"Portrayal Of A Political Activist"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 29/04/18

Eleanor Marx was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx and as a child played at home while he wrote his seminal work Das Capital. As an adult she became his secretary and edited his lectures. She joined the Social Democratic Foundation where she met her partner Edward Aveling. Together they became involved in left wing political and trade union action. Eleanor also took up acting and performed with George Bernard Shaw. She spoke several languages and translated various literary works. She died tragically at the age of 43. This multifaceted life of such an outstanding woman should provide a fascinating subject for a two-hour drama. It is disappointing to report therefore that the play : Eleanor Marx, the Jewess of the Jews Walk by Lucy Kaufmann produced by Spontaneous Productions currently playing Upstairs At The Sydenham Centre did not live up to expectations.

In spite of reflecting many of the events of her life the play was heavy going. It could have been better structured and the interaction of characters lacked conviction. The acting on the other hand was solid: Sarah Whitehouse in the title role presented a tour de force being onstage almost all the time but her modulations of mood seemed more like psychological illness rather than an intelligent woman under domestic stress. David Sayers as her unfaithful partner was portrayed as an unremitting recalcitrant although it is difficult to believe that he would not have been a more conflicted character. Some scenes between the two of them verged on melodrama. The little humour in the play was provided by Kirsten Moore in the role of the servant Gerty as a caricature of a simple minded maid.

The setting of the play is various rooms in their house in South London. The stage at the Sydenham Centre was not well suited to the play. The stage is very wide but very shallow and with apparently little in the way of wing space or entrances. The set designers had made best use of the available space but the overall impression was a bit confused.

After two and a half hours I did feel intrigued by the character of Eleanor Marx and keen to learn more but disappointed that such a promising subject had not provided a more satisfactory theatrical experience.

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