Mark Thomas: Cuckooed | Review by Steve Bennett © Steve Ullathorne
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Mark Thomas: Cuckooed

Review by Steve Bennett

The backdrop to Mark Thomas’s latest show, a theatrical mix of stand-up and documentary, goes back to his time when the main target of his direct-action campaigns was the arms trade.

He’s spoken before of how he was arrested in 2003 after locking himself to the axle of a bus taking dealers to a London arms fair with a bicycle D-lock; while his exploits against the death and torture industry were subsequently chronicled in his eye-opening book As Used On the Famous Nelson Mandela. Now he’s returned to the subject to discuss an angle that he hasn’t much talked about before, and which has a strong relevance today. For the group Thomas worked with, The Campaign Against Arms Trade, was infiltrated by a spy from weapons manufacturer BAE Systems. A man Thomas considered a close friend and comrade; until his treachery was exposed.

The use of such subterfuge has rarely been such a hot topic, with everything from the NSA scanning emails to the exposure of undercover cop Mark Jenner sleeping with activists, from phone hacking to the family of Stephen Lawrence being spied on the very police supposed to help them. Such civil liberties issues don’t, perhaps, have a great personal impact on most people, beyond a nagging feeling the methods are suspect, but Thomas makes the abstract personal with this engrossing tale of betrayal.

He doesn’t fully name the quisling in question – other than calling him Martin – though he’s only a Google away, thanks largely to a Guardian article Thomas wrote at the time the deception was exposed. But it’s clear the comedian still, after all these years, hasn't got any sort of closure about the revelations.

The comedy largely comes from regaling the good times he shared with Martin on the front line of high-spirited campaigning skirmishes. They seemed kindred spirits, straight-talking South Londoners out to have fun in a world of sincere lefties who, for all their good intentions, can be po-faced and smug. Nor was Thomas the only one to have come personally close to their ultimate betrayer, as a number of fellow activists speak on camera.

That theatrical flourish aside, Cuckooed is a straight monologue, carried entirely by Thomas’s brilliant ability to bring every story to vivid life, while making political points and vocalising his conflicting feelings about the treachery. He has only managed to make it through the first couple of stages of grief – denial and anger – so far, and the latter definitely fuels this show. This year, he has reached out to Martin to explain himself but the consequences don’t allow Thomas to move on.

Maybe this show will give him some sort of closure. It certainly gives the audience plenty of food for thought, once they’ve finished laughing.

Review date: 5 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Traverse Theatre

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