Mark Thomas returns to a favourite stomping ground at the Battersea Arts Centre, to be followed by other tour dates – in what is to be a whistle stop range of gigs around the country from Kent to Newcastle and beyond.
This latest show of Thomas’, “The Red Shed” is a nostalgic review of far left politics centred on his beloved Labour club, the Red Shed, in Wakefield. It is skilful story telling, at once personal, emotive and self-conscious. Thomas reaches the parts where other stand-ups dare not go and it both entertains and challenges.
It is an evening of reflection (redacted and reloaded) for all those who witnessed the seminal moment of mass strikes, recalling family fights and brotherly friendships eroded over the threat of mine closures. A time where communities, not to mention their histories, were to be swept away with advancing free market politics and impending globalisation.
This is a time where beer and brawling, working and striking were at the very heart of identity; where song and stories could engender hope and a sense of belonging – before the world moved on. In the midst of this was a younger Mark Thomas, fresh from the south new to the north and welcomed with an immediate northern hospitality in the working men’s “Red Shed’. A shed to host 66 people with a 14 foot bar, a shed where ideas of solidarity could be taken for granted, where history could happily repeat itself – a shed to consider’ ‘where am I and where am I from’. But this was all before Orgreave, before the heart was ripped from this industrial belt of the north. Thomas eulogises about that time, about the poverty and paucity of expectation with some sentimentality but it is an engaging trip down memory lane as he seeks to find out if memory and our personal stories are true or are if they tricks of the mind affected and twisted by time.
Thomas works his community with skill, encouraging the audience to sing, whistle and babble, demanding a contribution. His on-stage stooges play along to entertaining effect using the masks he has provided and this offers some diversion from his political diatribes as he works the group to light-hearted effect. Simple affects are put to good use under his stewardship as we navigate his memories of the hay day of committed socialist communities, where work was all and comradeship was everything. Or was it? Thomas takes us on a search for a truth, a moment where children sang, hummed their fathers back to work, broken and beaten yet unbowed – or were they? Did it happen as he remembered or as he imagined? As Thomas trawls through the characters and situations that evoke his past we join him in understanding that it is the story that matters and the retelling and embellishing of it that is both entertaining and somehow life affirming. Thomas implies we are made of stories, they help us stand tall together, giving us a common identity – they’re also a bloody good laugh, at times in the hands of this experienced comedian.
Catch Thomas either at BAC or on tour, even if it is not your favourite politics, its still entertaining and thought provoking and he almost resists being ‘prolier than thou’! In this day and age of sitting-on-the-fence politics, Thomas is a refreshing change because you know exactly where he stands – shoulder to shoulder with the proletariat and no mistake but the hand of friendship is always extended.