Friday, 1 August 2014

Mark Thomas - review of CUCKOOED (Work in Progress) show at New Greenham Arts - 18th July

They say the best way of getting over someone is to make a comedy show about it.

Mark Thomas’ work-in-progress show Cuckooed tells the story of his friendship with Martin – a kindred spirit that he’d met at the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) – a pressure group that Thomas describes as comprising “Quakers and Guardian readers”.

Back in 2003, The Sunday Times ran a series of front page exposés on a "spy network" run by a woman called Evelyn Le Chêne on behalf of BAE Systems.

The story claimed that Le Chêne had the names and addresses of 148,000 peace campaigners, environmentalists and activists obtained through spies posing as activists.

Someone within CAAT was sending them daily updates; could it have been Martin?

While CAAT produced evidence to back up their claims, Thomas and two other friends stood by him before eventually agreeing that the facts were irrefutable.

With clever interactive interviews with other activists on video screens, giving the impression of a live broadcast, Thomas tells the story of their friendship and detailing the betrayal.

It this all sounds dark and miserable, remember this true story is in the hands of Mark Thomas who has previously turned the subjects of his dying dad’s last encounter with opera, the conflict in Israel and the arms trade into comedy gold.

Thomas is an inventive activist and the first half was a recap of his 100 Minor Acts of Dissent tour which included a whistle-stop rundown of some of his successes; playing with toy Barbie cars outside the Saudi embassy, trying to get banned from Tesco, fighting Camden Council with a People’s Kazoo orchestra and a massive game of “What’s the time Mr Wolf” in protest at a council’s plans to charge people to participate in sport in its parks.

In a great piece of audience participation and a possible comedy first, Thomas explained how easy it is to set up your own arms firm (he’d actually done it); then at jaw-dropping speed, enumerating the successes he’d had with closing down arms firms.

As a work in progress, the story of CAAT was not only hilarious, but great theatre and as ever, Thomas is able to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, enticing laughter and gasps of disbelief in equal measure. Let’s hope that when he comes back with the full show that he has some answers to his questions.


(First appeared in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday 24th July).

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