It was something I’d been talking about for ages but I’d not actually booked any tickets. At the last minute I checked on-line and saw there were some good tickets available for that night’s show. It was marked as a ‘relaxed performance’ and I’d never been to one of these before so I looked forward to this structure.
We arrived at the Tricycle Theatre and I was amazed by this little theatre. It wasn’t a far walk from Kilburn tube station and in the middle of the High Street. With 30 minutes before the show started I collected the tickets from the friendly box office and made my way to the bar. There were plenty of bar staff on, which meant we were served quickly and were also able to order our interval drinks. It was only when I got to my seat in the theatre I realised that they didn’t give me a receipt or anything to say how to get them.
The lights dimmed slightly and Mark Thomas took to the stage. He started by explaining that this was a relaxed performance. The reason for this was to allow people on the spectrum, or people who struggle with the standard format of shows (dark rooms, silence, the unknown), to enjoy the performance. At which point we were introduced to Jess – A lady with tourettes – by Mark. It appears he knew her already and her tourettes added a very different type of audience interaction. It was never a heckle and Mark never treated them as such (well, not really!)
The format of the show was 2 halves with a 20 minute interval and with this the show started with a sections of his book, “100 Acts of Minor Dissent”. Well it almost did. Mark needed to put his coffee down but the stool on stage didn’t appear to have a flat surface so there wasn’t a way for the coffee, the water, the book and some papers to stay on there at the same time. We all looked at the storage query Mark had and he commented that this was a serious problem for him…and a voice called from the audience.
“Change your environment to suit your requirement!”
It was Jess. The whole audience went silent. Mark smiled. We all laughed. This particular tic had summed up the solution to not only Mark’s problem but it really resonated with the whole audience. Life, like the stool, can be packed full of stuff…and sometimes you need to add things to it. You can get stressed and worry or you can take another path and ‘change your environment to suit your requirement’. Mark agreed this was the best course of action so moved some stuff around and the coffee was safely deposited down.
Mark asked members of the audience to call out numbers and he told the story about that particular act of dissent. We heard about trying to be banned from Tesco and asking people to think about the possibility of there being no monarchy. At one point one of the people in the front row was asked for a number and we were soon being told about another act of dissent. The person who asked then decided to check his phone/send a text/etc! This is a pretty bad show when at a gig, it is very bad form when you are in the front row. Its extremely rude when you having the act directly interact with you! Mark dealt with is politely, seeing as this was a ‘relaxed’ gig and on it went.
The interval came and our drinks were brought out a little late, but it did mean they hadn’t been sitting there since before the first act started!
The 2nd act came and we were treated to the ‘Trespass’ part of the show. I had additional interest in this as I had attended a Loiterers event held in St. Kathryn’s Dock last year. A secret tweet went out telling people to be at a place, at a time and then we were taken to a gig on a public bit of land right next to the thames. Mark’s 2nd half expanded on his love for public space and walk-ways and what he and his friends had done to protest (or not actually protest) about these areas.
We were treated to a great tale with Mark dressed up as Shaun The Sheep and being tackled to the ground by 4 security guards. It ended with him going back there with a group of people all with Shaun The Sheep Masks to protest the previous heavy handedness. He told us also about some land in front of RBS where he was doing a 5km walk and was hoping to get it recognised as a national trust walk – all in a 15 metre stretch of land.
The 2nd act ended with Mark explaining how councils are now trying to make their own laws by giving people fines for certain things. These included a £100 fine for being homeless, £100 for aggressive begging (begging within 5 metres of a cashpoint), and the final piece was on how Salford council have ‘banned’ swearing in an area of the city. Mark wrote to them with a list of swearwords and asked them to confirm which would be alright to say. He then read the list out. It was the best bit of theatre I’d seen in a long time. Added with the occasional punctuation from Jess, the audience laughed from the first Arsehole to the last Yank-off (although apologies if these weren’t the first and last swears!). This could have been an great end to the show as the audience was hysterical with laughter, but there was more. Mark showed us a video of a choir of people singing a round-robin of swears. Too much! My face was aching from smiling and laughing!
But wait, there’s more!
He then explained that the Daily Mail had contacted them to use the video to show how over-the-top Salford council had been. Mark played the DM loaded video however there was one crucial difference. On Youtube, they allow swearing. The Daily Mail, however, does not feel so comfortable with profanity so their video was bleeped. And seeing as the whole song was just a list of swear-words, it consisted of just Beep Beep beeep!
And with that, the show was over. Mark did some book signing and chatted to people after the show. I first saw Mark Thomas live in maybe 2006 where he did a show that had people crying (with sadness) over the dreadful act of selling arms in the world. I have seen his TV shows and I’ve read his books. I would say that he is a great live performer who informs, educates and entertains the audience without coming across as superior or ridiculous.
As I left the theatre with my signed copy of 100 Acts of Minor Dissent I reflected on the evening, the relaxed performance and his output as a performer and it is clear he is a man of principles who fights for what he believes in…if only more people were like him.