Collective puts Marx's Das Kapital on stage

By Jesse Smee

09.11.2006 / The Guardian

There is no wedding, no romantic interest and no plot to speak of. Instead the reader of Karl Marx's epic work, Das Kapital, is treated to a lengthy treatise on the division of labour and capitalist modes of production, offered up in long, convoluted sentences.

Yet none of this has deterred a German theatre group from achieving the seemingly impossible: bringing the huge classic on economic theory to the stage.

Not since Proust was serialised has a dramatist faced such a gargantuan task - turning catchy topics such as "the production of absolute surplus value" into a crowd puller.

To that purpose, the stage of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus is bedecked with bookcases and a bust of Marx. Eight people - selected from among the few who have read the book from cover to cover - tell their own stories, creating a theatrical collage where Marx forms the common thread.

The play, Kapital: Volume One, is the brainchild of Rimini Protokoll, a collective of young German directors who have made a name for themselves in "documentary theatre".

In Kapital, the participants make up a diverse bunch. There is a staunch Marxist who rails against Coca-Cola and the evils of consumer society, a socialist singer from the former communist east Germany, and a blind call-centre worker who dreams of going on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

In an unusual take on audience participation, every theatregoer gets a bound book - Volume 23 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels.

Reading the complete volume aloud, with analysis to work out what is being said, would mean a theatre audience having to sit and watch for an entire year. But the Rimini Protokoll directors have kept their version to the more manageable length of one evening.

The collective says, however, that every performance is different, reflecting the spontaneity of a play that was rehearsed for only three weeks.

Rimini Protokoll have had recent sellout shows, such as Blaiberg und Sweetheart 19, which included former heart transplant patients alongside people who had sought love on lonely hearts websites.

Marx based his book on 30 years of research into capitalist production in industrial England. The play, which made its debut on Saturday, has left some critics less than gripped. "Most of it remains something of a lecture which, like all lectures, is at times dry and boring," the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.

After its Düsseldorf run the play will be shown in Berlin, Frankfurt and Zurich.

More information:


Karl Marx: Capital, Volume One