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Mark Thomas: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Always the contrarian, Mark Thomas.

Just as the world seems to be turning a little more politicised, thanks to the polarising effect of a Tory-led government, he turns away from the subjects he’s been tackling these past 27 years on stage, and turns his comic gaze inwardly instead.

For this is a show about a son’s fraught relationship with his ailing father. Yes, another one. Although, as Thomas is keen to stress, this is not the typically redemptive story, where new paternal bonds are formed to heal a previous rift.

Although the tone initially seems fond, Thomas actually has barely a good word to say about his father, Colin. ‘Hard-working’ is probably the best – and actually highest praise Thomas Snr would want. He was a real grafter, a self-employed builder who would put in more hours and more effort that anyone else, and be proud of himself. Yet, unexpectedly, he had a love of opera, born out of that old-fashioned working-class desire to try to ‘better yourself’.

Euphemistically, he might be considered a rough diamond, a drinker and a brawler, getting into scrapes with the law. Thomas is keen to repudiate that idea, however,  portraying him as the worst kind of violent bully so quick with his fists he would send his wife to hospital.

Thomas says that they ‘learned to live around’ this abuse; although it’s an itch he still can’t scratch too vigorously. In an audio recording, his brother Matthew is clearly still uncomfortable with the memories.

These tapes are the nominal theatrical addition to the monologue. Mum, dad and sibling are represented by lights, alongside these samples of  conversations,.The key interview came after Thomas made a grand effort to make some connection with his dad, breaking through the progressive supranuclear palsy that was shutting down his systems with the power of the one thing he loved more than anything else: the opera.

There is a clear poignancy to this, and Thomas skilfully puts his audience though an emotional roller-coaster with his perfectly pitched delivery. But also he’s happy to puncture any weightiness in the name of a joke – the somersault from intensity to frivolity increasing the impact of any gag.

He paints a vivid picture of his background and how his middle-class values are so different from his father’s, and brings the audience with him every step of the tale – even if it involves tiptoeing around some of the more difficult issues.

The result is heartwarming without being oversentimental, sombre yet funny. Surely – like the gift of opera Thomas gave to his father – this is a tribute that’s more than the  bastard deserves.


Review date: 19 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Traverse Theatre

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