REVIEW: Mark Thomas Tobacco Factory 9/10
MARK Thomas kicked off his two month tour of his show Bravo Figaro at a packed Tobacco Factory. The evening marked a change of pace for Mark, better known for hard hitting political commentaries, pursuing arms traders and walking the West Bank wall separating Palestine from Israel. Mark decided to do the warm up himself. After taking an early victim in the audience, he went into to a funny routine about "book heckling", which involves going into a bookshop and placing disruptive pieces of paper within specific books' pages.
He then provided a nice selection of audience suggestions coming from his recent Manifesto tour where people contributed ideas to change the quality of people's lives.
After the break there was a distinct change of pace. A large photograph of his father Colin Thomas ("Moses with a hangover", as his family described him) was projected at the back of the stage for most of the set. A lamp connected to a sack barrow, piled with his father's favourite instalments of "The Great Classics", resembled a sick bed as Mark sat down and recorded extracts of conversations with his father and mother played, with sub-titles on the screen. On the other side of the stage was Mark's Noah's Ark, given to him when he was one and testament to dad's skills as a joiner.
What followed is difficult to describe. Thomas used stand up, dance, song and, despite his protestations, pretty effective acting, to describe his relationship with his father. Colin Thomas came over as a proud, extremely hard working, at times violent man, a larger than life figure.
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What transformed everything was his father's conversion to opera, the most "elitist art form, the default position for the ruling classes" as Mark himself described it. Colin became a devotee, poring over his Great Classics, playing the associated vinyl records, and even buying the same operas on cassette so he could play them while working on scaffolding at the building site! Mark Thomas has lost none of his famous edge, even while describing intimate family moments. He began to listen to opera himself. Eventually he is commissioned to write a one man show around opera and arranges a concert at his retired parents' Bournemouth bungalow. His father is now suffering from an incurable degenerative disease but wakes, and fully engages with the performance. They close with his favourite, La Boheme.
At times, laugh-out-loud funny, at others heartbreaking, this is a show that defies classification. Mark Thomas has pulled off something special here, and the capacity audience were with him from the outset.