Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer
The Red Shed is an intense and moving masterpiece, representing the very best of Mark Thomas’ talents as a comedian, actor and journalist.
Mark Thomas begins by recounting an interview he gave to NME in 1989. He rattled through his answers, before being asked: “Where do you get your politics from?” Thomas knew it stemmed from his time at ‘The Red Shed’, a Labour Club in Wakefield, where he became involved in the 1984 Miners’ Strike. Before realising, Thomas had delivered a rant to the unsuspecting reviewer – which he repeats now – about a march he joined through the heart of a pit village and past a school playground where children ran forward crying to sing “Solidarity Forever” at their fathers and sons, supporting them in their fight against injustice. Then Thomas goes silent, sweating and teary. Finally, he injects some levity: “I’ve told that story so many times, that I’ve no idea whether it’s even true.”
During the rest of the performance, Thomas reports on his quest to test his memory was true: to track down that village and those children “without sounding like a paedophile”. On the way, he catches up with many old friends from The Red Shed, which celebrates its 50th year in September. The show quickly becomes far more than a journey to find the truth. It’s also a homage to the north and its people, not least the argumentative Peter – a fellow drama student at Bretton Hall – who remains Thomas’ best mate.
Throughout the production, Thomas effects a variety of voices, plays audio clips, conducts songs, and employs audience members and simple props to great effect. More importantly, he alters his delivery masterfully, frequently throwing the packed theatre from hilarity to despair and back again. He makes constant and searching eye contact. But as soon as things start to get too heavy, he returns to his stand-up roots with a quip about Michael Gove or Cath Kidston. It really is a breathtaking performance.
Thomas inevitably attracts a certain crowd and his abrasive style can put some people off. On the day I attended, I seemed to be one of the few non card-carrying Corbynistas. But even the staunchest Tory would struggle not to be moved by the passion and drama he injects into this performance piece. Because that’s what it is: a perfect blend of comedy, theatre and journalism provoking laughter, emotion and thought.
Mark Thomas is performing The Red Shed at various times at Traverse Theatre until 28th August. For tickets, head here. Following the Fringe, the show tours across the UK before arriving in London for dates in October and November. To see the full tour schedule, head to Mark’s official website. For more information, follow @MarkThomasInfo on Twitter.