Edinburgh review: Mark Thomas: The Red Shed (Traverse Theatre)
Mark Thomas goes on a quest to find the truth of an old memory in his latest stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe
No, it's not the National Theatre's pop up stage on the South Bank. The Red Shed is actually a Labour club and pub in the heart of Wakefield in Yorkshire. This year the wooden structure - 47 x 18 ft and now overshadowed by a Debenhams – turns 50 years-old. And since he was studying nearby in the '80s, comedian and activist Mark Thomas has spent a lot of time in it.
For those familiar with Thomas, that won't be a surprise. The socialist agitator, funny man, political commentator and dude off the telly has made a 30 year career from generally being a thorn in the side of the British establishment. With his new show, he has a more reflective tone than some of his other pieces. The Red Shed is a mini love letter to the past – a little snapshot of the history of the Labour movement told through a very Mark Thomas-style quest.
This piece starts with a memory – a memory that Thomas says ultimately set him on his political path. He's retold the memory over and over again since he became a comedian. He remembers marching past a school with miners during the 1984 strikes and a teacher and her class of five year-olds came out to watch. As Thomas has it, they sang a song in solidarity.
But is it true? Memories are slippery things and after the referendum's ‘campaign of lies', Thomas is keen to make sure his story has no holes in it. As such, he decides to find the actual mine, find the school, find the pupils, find the teacher and confirm whether or not this memory is real.
But despite all this excavating, The Red Shed isn't backward looking. It comes down to a question about whether you can have a present, or a future, without a past. Thomas, with his super-fast, friendly delivery and some great audience interaction, tells a story that is not sanctimonious nor sentimental, but it is very, very funny. In a little over 90 minutes Thomas shows us how important the little things are, how easy it is to forget and what a disaster it would be if we did.
I'd wager Thomas' smart, everyman narrative, will charm you whatever your politics. Everyone loves a good story. And he absolutely knows how to tell one of those.
Mark Thomas - The Red Shed runs at the Traverse Theatre various times until 28 Aug (not 15, 22).