Mark Thomas: It's The Stupid Economy

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

The labyrinthine intricacies of hedge funds, quantitative easing and sub-prime mortgage markets – can comedy come from the incomprehensible financial machinations that got the world in such a mess? Maybe we’ll never know – because somewhere between inception and execution, Mark Thomas seems to have had a chance of heart about his new show.

Since MPs, not bankers, have become public enemy number one, this now inaccurately named tour is more about politics than economics. And Thomas takes a suitably democratic approach to the material, with his big idea being to draw up a manifesto, based on policies suggested by audiences around the country, then do his best to enact them. He’s even got think tanks set up to test the viability of some of the more intricate ideas.

The suggestions, as you might expect, range from the sublime to the ridiculous: from ensuring the 1967 Abortion Act applies to Northern Ireland to disguising panthers as foxes to terrify the aristocracy. Thomas has fun with the silly ones, but nudges the audience towards voting for those with a serious agenda. Nonetheless, the people of Leicester tonight insisted that the policy ‘people who sell homeopathic medicines should only ever be treated with homeopathy on the NHS’ is the one that should be adopted.

This is clearly a show that will morph as the tour goes on, with Thomas planning all manner of direct action en route. At this show, he urged his audience to join him the next day in a demo outside the local HM Revenue & Customs office calling for an invasion of the Jersey tax haven, followed by a mass descent on MP Keith Vaz’s constituency surgery to demand a go on his lavish, taxpayer-funded silk cushions.

The bulk of the show discusses the best such suggestions from tonight and earlier in the tour, mixed with a few from Thomas’s personal manifesto, such as ditching the National Anthem and enforcing a maximum wage, with allows him to perform some more polished set pieces, more substantial than simply tagging a gag onto the end of a serious point.

Mind you, for all the world-changing political posturing, the one thing that winds Thomas up the most is visiting Ikea on a Sunday afternoon, in a rather conventional, if furiously animated, stand-up rant. See, it’s not all edgy stuff…

Unlike Thomas’s previous shows tackling the likes of the arms trade or Coca-Cola’s corporate practices, there is no one defining villain here, which does mean there’s not a strong narrative drive. It’s more of a scattergun approach to much that he sees wrong with Britain and the world, so he’s not short of causes. Some aims are clearly more practical and achievable than others, but there’s a lot of activity here which everyone is urged to follow – and participate in – via Thomas’s lively website. Yes, this is a comedy show with homework.

But if anyone can recruit followers to the cause, it’s him. Campaigning often sounds worthy and po-faced, riven with internectine rifts between ideological factions, but Thomas makes campaigning sound playful. Changing the world becomes a game, so we start to cheer every one of his smart-arse victory against the State as we would cheer a football team. He got his DNA records erased? Starts suing the police for an unlawful stop-and-search? Launches legal action against the on-his-way-out Commons Speaker over the expenses scandal? 3-0 to the good guys.

The fragmented nature of the show, plus the fact it uses so many often baffling audience suggestions, does mean that the quality of the comedy is inconsistent, but Thomas’s passion and good humour as he squares up to The Man means that his call to arms is as entertaining as it is well-intentioned. If the revolution is going to start anywhere, here seems as likely a place as any.

Review date: 20 May 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester The Y Theatre

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