Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!

Sat 16th February 2013

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Thomas Stell

at 03:03 on 17th Feb 2013

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Mark Thomas is a great story teller. And he is a man with a really unique story to tell. There can’t be many who’ve grown up with an opera loving south London tough for a father. We’re given a completely honest portrait of the man, with all the ambiguities and hypocrisy that, as Mark points out, makes people interesting.

But to give us time to warm up this is kept to the second half and the first given over to lighter humour. We hear reminiscences of his latest project, The People’s Manifesto, his audiences suggested government policies compiled on a tour of Britain, including a plea in one part of the country for more lesbians. We hear about his habit of book-heckling. It consists of inserting sarcastic comments on bits of paper into books in highstreet shops. Everything is told in an earthy, energetic style, with a lot of ungratuitous swearing and enormous charm. He is never either confrontational or falsely self-depracating. He is a kind-spirited man of the people it is a pleasure to spend an evening with.

And his technical gifts are enormous. For once the hackneyed stand-up thing of beginning a show by wondering aloud how you’ll begin it doesn’t seem hackneyed at all. He can create characterful vignettes with great ease, be it his daughter pamphleteering for the family to get a dog, or an aristocratic lawyer who thinks all criminal law should be replaced by legislation against just two offences: being out of order, and being bang out of order.

All this technical skill is then thrown, with a great quantity of honesty, into the story of his father. Mark Thomas grew up the son of a Methodist preacher, self employed builder, proto-Thatcherite and brawler who had an extreme working class work ethic and at the same time loved opera. He would listen to “Largo al Factotum” as he worked and sing along to it. He would put on black tie and go to all the big opera houses, and play his vinyls at home at the absolute loudest. We get a picture of the man with all his faults and all his admirable qualities at the same time. Colin Alec Todd Thomas was certainly a brutal person who treated his wife violently and did to his children much that can’t be forgiven, but, to use Mark Thomas’s image, his fascination with music made it look like he had “crawled across the wasteland of his emotion to find a box with “Ooooooh!” written on it.” He is now gradually losing his faculties to a degenerative disease. We are not told what to make of it all. The whole thing’s just told how it is, and it makes a very thoughtful, very touching piece.

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