INTERVIEW: Mark Thomas | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s fair to say that Mark Thomas is a very opinionated fella. Rising to prominence in the late 80s/early 90s, making people laugh has always been first and foremost. In addition to an illustrious stand-up career, Channel 4’s The Mark Thomas Comedy Product ran for six series and he’s a regular contributor to The New Statesman. He’s also a prominent activist and for a short while held the record for being arrested the most amount of times in the same day. However of late, his mischief has taken a different form.

“I’ve been performing now for nearly 29 years and when I started it was a rebellious, naughty thing to do. No one had a television career in stand-up when I started…it was a naughty thing to be an alternative comic.”

Recently, he’s won some seriously impressive accolades for penning and starring in a series of politically charged one-man theatre shows – each one entirely different from the others. “The stuff I’ve been doing over the past five, six years is in some ways a real change. My early shows were always very much in that vein and that tradition of creating mischief and fucking about and doing bad things to bad people for the cause of good.”

In Walking The Wall he rambled the length of the Israeli/Palestine border, while The People’s Manifesto had him canvas the opinions of his audience, asking them to come up with ideas to change the world. “The whole thing was to get people to discuss and to talk and debate,” he says, “which of course you don’t do in a stand-up situation, you don’t do in a theatre show…you get people to be quiet, you get them to behave.”

“Stand-up doesn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with stuff as I think it should. It’s pointless trying to get people to engage in a debate if all you get is rage”

Recently he completed 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, which saw him successfully fulfil his self-set challenge of committing a hundred acts of rebellion in less than a year (the price of failure? Donate £1,000 to UKIP). “I like to call it a mix of stand-up and theatre and journalism.” The motivation behind this change of tack, he says, is “to take people on an emotional journey as well as an intellectual one, and challenge them politically.”

New stage show Cuckooed, at Northern Stage on Friday 20th February, is a deeply personal piece; perhaps even more so than Bravo Figaro!, his 2012 smash which was a one-man love letter to his opera-loving dad. Appropriately, the subtitle for the new show is A Comedy of Betrayal. “Basically it’s about a friend and fellow activist of mine. He was a very good friend and it turns out that he was involved with spying on behalf of an arms company.” It transpired BAE Systems (the world’s largest arms manufacturer) were using his friend to collect information on the anti-arms trade movement. “When you talk to people about spying they tend to go ‘Oooh, it’s a big conspiracy theory isn’t it?’. Well it’s not – there’s no conspiracy, there’s no theory about it…it’s all fact. It’s a rather dark world that you enter into.”

Thomas’ winning combination of pathos and lid-lifting has already seen Cuckooed bag him his second Scotsman Fringe First, as well as the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award: something which Mark is genuinely humbled about. “I’ve always loved the fact that you can have an impact outside the theatre,” he says. As for this new-found niche in ‘investigative theatre’, this seems like an area in which he is more than happy to stay: “Stand-up doesn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with stuff as I think it should. It’s pointless trying to get people to engage in a debate if all you get is rage.”

Mark Thomas’ Cuckooed is at Newcastle’s Northern Stage on Friday 20th February.

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