Mark Thomas

Bravo Figaro

14/05/20

Go Faster Stripe and Traverse Theatre

Mark Thomas is always a delight to watch: standup, storyteller, activist – all of these terms can be applied to him and all seem to fit perfectly. We missed Bravo Figaro at last year’s festival, so this seems like a welcome addition to our lockdown entertainment options, streaming live on YouTube for just £5, with a percentage of ticket purchases going to the Traverse theatre.

Business is pretty much as usual here, as Thomas ambles onto a sparsely furnished stage and begins to unfold the story of his father, Colin, a hardworking family man, a builder by trade who, unusually for a working class chap, developed a fervent passion for opera. Thomas pulls no punches in his depiction of a man who was never slow in using his own fists when angered and who clearly ruled his wife and chidren with a rod of iron. But, when he was stricken by a rare form of degenerative illness, Colin became a shadow of the man he used to be – and his son had to look for ways in which he might remind his father of the things that used to motivate him.

This clever and moving story, draws a compelling narrative, interspersed with occasional recorded pieces featuring the voices of his parents in conversation.

It’s testament to Thomas’s considerable skill as a raconteur that he manages to flit effortlessly in and out of the various scenes, between genuinely funny observations and heartwrenching moments of realisation. Not everything here quite hits home as surely as it might, for example, a brief passage where he explains to the younger people in the audience what vinyl is seems like a misstep – they are the hipster generation, after all.

But that’s a minor quibble. This is a charming and perceptive piece, that provides an excellent way to fill an hour of lockdown. I look forward to seeing him again, preferrably in a packed theatre, with the laughter of others ringing around me.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Cuckooed

Unknown

18/04/15

Cuckooed was one of the hot tickets at last year’s Fringe – so hot, in fact, that we failed to procure tickets for it. So it was great to see it repeated at the Traverse Theatre and to note, that once again, it was absolutely sold out. Luckily we booked early.

Tonight’s show is divided into two halves. Before the titular ‘comedy of betrayal,’ we are treated to forty minutes of chat by writer and star Mark Thomas, focusing mostly on the ‘105 Acts of Minor Dissent’ that he recently set himself. It’s hard to describe Thomas’s act. He’s not exactly a standup, in the sense that there are no real jokes or punchlines here – and yet he has people roaring with laughter, pretty much from the get go. He’s actually an activist, a ‘domestic terrorist’ as the police like to label him, a man who entered the Guinness Book of records for holding 20 protests in 24 hours. Thomas has devoted his life to confronting senseless authority and he manages to make me feel ashamed for not doing more. He’s also a man who doesn’t hold back when talking about those who he feels fall short of being decent human beings. A recent competition he held, to come up with a definition of the word ‘Farage,’ resulted in the following: Farage: the puddle of smelly liquid at the bottom of a rubbish bin. 

Cuckooed is a more complex animal, a blend of theatre, witness-recollections, video and reconstruction. Instead of a programme, we get a paperback copy of the script, which is always a bonus. It tells the story of when Mark was a member of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and carried out protests alongside his dearest friend, referred to here only as ‘Martin.’ When it becomes apparent that members of the group are being spied on by the arms company, BAE Systems, it soon transpires that there has to be a mole working within CAAT, and, after much digging, suspicion falls upon Martin. Thomas is at first incensed. How could just a hardworking, devoted activist be thought capable of performing such a horrible deception? But, as he begins to probe the evidence himself, a terrible truth is uncovered…

Thomas is a mesmerising performer. This is essentially a monologue (with interjections from witnesses recorded on video screens, cleverly contained within the sliding drawers of filing cabinets), but he carries the show expertly, using all the techniques of a gifted actor. A key scene where his emotion builds to the point where his eyes fill with tears of regret is incredibly moving, and, I believe, impossible to fake. It raises some incredibly cogent questions about the right to privacy and touches on other deceptions – notably the case of undercover policeman John Dines, who conducted a three year relationship with a woman, a member of an anti-capitalist group, simply in order to spy on her and the other members.

It’s a brilliant show, not the angry diatribe it might have been, but thoughtful and measured. At its conclusion, the audience rise to their feet to deliver a well-deserved standing ovation. You can bet that we’ll be booking tickets early for his next show, Trespass, when it comes to Edinburgh in August.

5 stars

Philip Caveney