Mark Thomas Live: Serious Organised Criminal

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Mark Thomas makes the papers quite a lot these days, but rarely for his comedy. Only this week he was a figurehead for the Stop The War march down Whitehall, which police had threatened to break up using an archaic 19th Century law.

Such curbs on basic rights in the dubious name of combatting terrorism are Thomas’s current bugbear – and he has no shortage of causes to take up: ID cards, snooping powers and, his favourite, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, section 132 of which requires the organiser of a protests anywhere near Parliament to obtain a licence from the police.

‘Comedy gold’ is not a phrase often associated with statute-book legislation, but this one is a farceur’s dream.

For starters, it was drafted with the purpose of evicting long-running anti-war protester Brian Haw from Parliament Square, yet he was the one person the new law COULDN’T touch. Yet eating a cake with the word ‘peace’ on it is now considered a political act. How can this not be funny.

The law is riddled with loopholes, which is where Thomas comes in, bombarding hard-pressed police with countless frivolous protests, including hundreds on the same day, generating a rainforest of paperwork in a bid to crash the system.

This show is the tale of this very British protest, using pedantry, politeness, playfulness and persistence to challenge oppressive authority, rather than Molotov cocktails. It’s Kafka meets Punk’d, as produced by Ealing Studios – and is Thomas’s funniest show to date.

He has quarter of a century of stand-up experience to draw upon, which gives him a masterly approach to storytelling. And this one has all the right ingredients for a classic tale: farcical authority figures, a noble cause and a seemingly endless list of comedy situations – made all the more funny because it’s true.

Thomas’s supposed nemesis is PC Paul McInally, the remarkably patient PC at Charing Cross police station who has to process the mountain of red tape. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Thomas finds he has a lot of sympathy for him, and many of the other foot soldiers trying to enforce this ridiculous law that neither side, it appears, particularly wants.

This relationship with the canny Scot provides a great human focus for this tale of decency and freedom versus the surreal, petty bureaucracy inflicted by a government eager to stifle opposition.

Politics, as ever, is a constant, driving Thomas’s appealing passion. But the stance very underplayed in this show, which is more a collection of personal stories from his bizarre struggle, that even landed him, proudly, a place in the Guinness World Records book for most protests in a day. We root for him not because he’s a Leftie, but because he’s a cheeky everyman cocking a snook at The Man, cleverly beating him at his own game.

This might be an important show, for the sake of our liberty – but you forget that as you get swept along in the hilarious narrative.

Go see it, and if you disagree with this review, you can always stage a protest. I think I know just the man who could help you…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

London, October 11

The show is also released on DVD on November 5. Click here to preorder it.

For details of how to get involved in Mark Thomas’s campaigns, plus his McProtest scheme to bombard police with even more paperwork, visit his website at

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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