Dunfermline Press

Comedian is on form with tragic one-man production

- Amcroberts@dunfermlin­epress.co.uk

Ally McRoberts

WHETHER chasing down internatio­nal arms dealers, squatting in an MP’s second home or discoverin­g just how much radiation is in the pigeon droppings next to nuclear power facilities, there’s always been a serious point behind Mark Thomas’ comedy.

He’s been a stand-up for more than 35 years and his enduring skill lies in his ability, often supremely surreal and always hilarious, to highlight what’s wrong in the world and actually do something about it.

But then there’s England & Son – 75 minutes of fun and frolics this ain’t. It starts with Mark on the floor, howling in pain as he wakes in a bin at the back of a Wetherspoo­n’s pub, just as the workers are readying to put the contents into the crusher.

What unfolds is a hard-hitting tale of domestic violence, juvenile offending, drug-taking, homelessne­ss, theft, jail, alcohol abuse, tragedy and death, it’s relentless, captivatin­g and you can’t take your eyes off it.

And at its heart is a small working-class boy yearning for the approval, a smile or a ruffle of the hair, from his dad.

A one-man play, England & Son is quite a departure for Mark.

It’s the first time he has performed someone else’s material at the Edinburgh Fringe, specifical­ly written for him by award-winning playwright Ed Edwards.

The narrative includes personal experience­s of Ed’s own stint behind bars as well as characters based on people from Mark’s childhood.

The venue is a large tent at Summerhall, the seats circle a small stage where his character, whose surname is England, prowls and paces, cajoles and cowers, laughs and loves. Intense and sparking with energy, it’s some performanc­e.

It’s a dark story, pitch black in places, of a childhood lost but told in a remarkably vivid, engrossing manner by a brilliant, multi-talented performer.

And in keeping with the kind of issues and politics he tackles in his comedy, the play has uncomforta­ble questions for us.

How can you rationalis­e, as many were forced to, ‘state sponsored’ violence and theft – in the play Mark’s father was a soldier who participat­ed in genocide in the former Malaya – when the killing and plundering is condoned and justified under British colonialis­m?

The juxtaposit­ion is the short, sharp shock treatment casually meted out to ‘bad’ children, such as Mark’s character when he starts breaking into houses as a juvenile.

As a comic he’s ridiculed incompeten­t politician­s, tackled injustice and corporate greed, taken the police to court (and won), been credited with helping to change the law on tax avoidance, opened a comedy club in Palestine and won awards for both his comedy shows and his human rights work.

A rage against the system has often fuelled his comedy gigs and his performanc­es. But his turn here, for England & Son, takes it to a whole new level. Go and see it. You won’t be disappoint­ed.

England & Son is at Summerhall in Edinburgh on August 20 and 21,and from 23 to 27.

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