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Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Traverse Theatre
1-26 August

Part stand-up comedy, part autobiography, part family confessional, Mark Thomas's new show is a deeply engaging, and deeply moving, account of how he said good-bye to his father, a self-employed South London builder with an unlikely passion for opera.

His dad is slipping away with a degenerative illness, progressive supranuclear palsy, in Bournemouth. After a meeting with film director Mike Figgis in Covent Garden, Thomas comes up with the idea of putting on a concert in his parents' bungalow.

It's a gift to repay someone about whom he is honestly double-edged. Thomas's father was a bigot and a bully, but he did make beautiful objects, ran a successful business, and he loved music.

Thomas's tales of his own progress on the stage -- from studying drama at college ("Brecht, drugs and rock and roll; loved it") to developing his comic diatribes against racism, sexism and capitalism (seeing Little Britain on television reminds him of how far he failed) and being heckled by his own dad at an early gig -- are hilarious.

And his father's penchant for Rossini and Verdi, especially the former's Figaro, leads him into his own relationship with the art form, discovering John Adams at ENO -- though Wagner remains "the sound of a stool being passed for three hours" -- and even finding himself virtually preening himself at Glyndebourne with his dad's "I'm as good as you lot" silent jeer at the audience.

"For younger members of the audience," there are references to industry -- "we used to make stuff in this country" -- and vinyl records. It's a richly informative and enjoyable gig, brilliantly delivered, and shadowed by a brutish character -- we can't choose our parents, after all --whose torrents of foul-mouthed, incoherent rudeness made him sound, according to his own son, like a scat-singing Cleo Laine with Tourette's.


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