Daniel Nelson


Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Image by Photo by Steve Ullathorne

Thomas is a comedian, campaigner and journalist with a big reputation and this one-man show about how a group of arms trade campaigners were spied on by a charismatic, totally trusted colleague working for Britain’s biggest arms dealer is surely his masterpiece.

It’s a true story – in every detail except one which, ever the artful showman, he tips us off to watch out for – and it won an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, justifiably, as well as an Edinburgh Fringe award, rightly, because as well as being a campaigner he’s a performer, and a good one.

The first half is straightforward stand-up routine: he tells stories of his early gigs, points out the importance of high viz jackets, which are a sort of invisibility cloak for campaigners, makes a detour over an audience member’s spilt drink, recollects some of the funny highlights from a previous round of activities that he turned into a show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent (which he spurred himself on to complete by promising to make a £1,000 contribution to UKIP – “the political equivalent of chlamydia” - if he failed) and ends with a riff on definitions of the word ‘farage’.

The material is not all new, but it’s well-crafted, and well-delivered – almost too well: there are moments when you think he may be tipping into a self-congratulatory complacency about his stunts and his stagecraft. But the fact is his stunts are inventive and funny and his voice modulations skilfully keep the pace fluctuating.

The second half is pure brilliance. It’s a great story (unless you think it’s improper that an Indonesian General admits to using torture on film, made under pretence that Thomas is giving him media training, or that it’s not funny when a  bunch of arms traders are tricked onto a bus and left to walk back to the weapons fair through a gauntlet of protesters: some of thedealers subsequently report that they have been traumatised).

There’s also an intriguing personal element after the spy is unmasked: he is such an integral part of the group, a friend, that some of the campaigners (who appear in on-stage videos) can’t or won’t believe the evidence, and the guy himself will not admit his actions: Thomas suggests the refusal is based on an unwillingness to give up the only remaining power the cuckoo in the nest holds over them.

It’s enormously entertaining and enormously important. Any doubts about significance are smashed by a section in which assorted activists explain (at a BaE social club) why they have been listed by the police, as has Thomas, as “domestic extremists”, or found themselves on black lists that stop them getting work, or whose lives have been wrecked by undercover police posing as lovers and fathering their children.

This stuff really matters. If this show helps motivate people, all of us, into protesting in whatever ways we can, against such abuses, Mark Thomas will really have notched up a success.

+ NUJ members under police surveillance mount collective legal challenge: http://www.markthomasinfo.co.uk/

Thu, 16 April
Edinburgh, Traverse Theatre
(Website) (map)
Fri, 17 April
Edinburgh, Traverse Theatre
(Website) (map)
Fri, 24 April
Folkestone, Quarterhouse Arts Centre

London, Four Thieves (Battersea Arts centre)
Mon, 27 Apr-Sun, 3 May
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