Review: In Conversation With: Mark Thomas *****

Spoken Word

In Conversation With: Mark Thomas

The Stand’s New Town Theatre, Freemasons’ Hall, George Street v7

12.00 (15 August ONLY)

***** (5 stars)

This year I thought I’d do something different, i.e. not go to Mark’s regular show at the Traverse, partly because he’s talking about the NHS and selfishly I thought “it’s mainly going to be about the NHS in England and thank goodness I live in Scotland”: so I thought I’d go instead to see him ‘in conversation’ at the Stand’s New Town Theatre and see what he’s like when he’s just being him…

It was, as I expected, a fascinating hour. Hosted by Susan Morrison who took a real and positive part in the conversation – obviously in sympathy with many of Mark’s views and attitudes – Mark ranged over many topics. Some I’ve heard before in previous shows, others were new to me and, as ever, the man was able to move from roar-with-laughter humour to dead-silence-seriousness at the drop of a hat. We heard a lot about his upbringing and extended family, with digressions into how the street on which he lived began to go through a process of gentle gentrification- but that the teachers who at one point moved in were to become members of the House of Lords.

I was fascinated to hear him talking about his acting training at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire – I have heard of so many people who were transformed by their time there, most recently a friend of mine who trained in Alexander technique – and here’s Mark as yet another. He got very excited telling us about his time there and the lifelong friends he made, and the comedians who were major influences in his development: it’s always a joy to hear the passionate thanks he gives to the people who’ve influenced him and made major contributions to his life and career.

And Mark wouldn’t be Mark without his scathing, extremely frank, and hilariously subversive condemnation of people and institutions he can’t abide. I am deeply impressed that he attempts to find the good in the people he goes after: but even he had to admit to one or two people whom he was unable to include in this general act of loving kindness.

I don’t want to reveal all his jokes and anecdotes: go and see him for yourself and be prepared to laugh till you cry [and vice versa]. What I admire most in Mark Thomas is the example he sets of someone who is passionately pro some things, vehemently against others, but who doesn’t take the easy way out, simply grumbling and moaning – he goes out and does what he can, and uses his act to inspire other people to follow suit and do what they can, saying we have a DUTY to challenge, and everyone can take part. Long may he continue so to do!

Mary Woodward