Mark Thomas was back at the Dukes on Wednesday 29th November. After last year’s poignant, moving and very funny theatre show ‘The Red Shed’ (see subtext 156) he returned to the Dukes with more traditional stand-up fare. This time it’s just him, a microphone, a few scraps of paper and some betting odds. We are here, Thomas tells us, to work together as a group. Our job is to vote (with our cheers) for the best prediction of the future proffered by our fellow audience members pre-show.
After Brexit and Trump (and UA92), who really knows what’s going to happen next? None of us, of course. Recent events have been so unexpected we cannot be any less accurate than the experts. Don’t look to Mark Thomas, either – he’s not offering any answers here, instead he is channeling our collective cluelessness into two hours of cathartic entertainment in which we laugh, not just at the world, but at our own divergent understandings of it.
The audience were canvassed in the bar with slips of paper which invited them to guess one thing that might happen in the future, be it outlandish or predictable, and Thomas spends most of the time simply reading through them and discussing the subjects they bring up, occasionally referring to contributions from past shows. The idea is that he and the audience single out their favourite prediction by a vaguely democratic ‘biggest cheer” process. At the end of the show donations are thrown in a bucket by the door, which we are told will be placed on the winner, and if it wins, the cash will be given to a worthwhile cause.
So it’s a simple enough idea to get a bit of banter going, ad-libbed as well as scripted, although there’s plenty that Thomas would have known to expect. ‘Trump will be assassinated/impeached’, ‘there will be a UK general election within the next year’ and (big cheer for this) ‘Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister’ are all hurried through. As ever at a Mark Thomas gig, the left-leaning converted are being preached to, even though Thomas himself seems keen to engage in discussion with all comers.
Compared to the heart-stopping suspension and heart-breaking tenderness of ‘The Red Shed’, this show might seem a little slight. But he’s still Mark Thomas, which means we’re treated to the best kind of hilarious political rantings, underscored by stories about his upbringing and, in particular, his father, whose rare mix of religious devotion and fiery temperament is another telling influence on the comic. Throughout these tales Thomas proves to be an energetic and compelling raconteur, weaving narratives which take the audience along with him, offering insights into the unorthodox upbringing of a man who retains a smouldering anger at injustice.
This Lancaster audience voted for the bet that ‘EU immigrants would ‘club together’ and buy the Daily Mail’. And people as they left the theatre dutifully threw their pound coins into the bucket – Mark did not tell us what odds we would get on this particular bet!