Mark Thomas – The Liar's Quartet
- Brian Donaldson
- 31 July 2017
The campaigning stand-up releases scripts to his memorable last three stage shows
When Stewart Lee took a step back from the stand-up scene in the late 90s to co-write a controversial modern opera, it seemed to give his comedy career a kick-start. Similarly, had Mark Thomas kept plugging away at the politically driven one-man-and-a-mic stand-up which helped forge his name in the late 80s / early 90s, he may have slipped off the cultural radar. Instead, his work (always daring, never patronising) has become more theatrical, layered and personal.
The fruits of that professional gear-change can be vividly witnessed on the pages of The Liar's Quartet, 'playscripts, notes and commentary' of his last three stage works, Bravo Figaro!, Cuckooed and The Red Shed. While, there's certainly a lot of politics abounding in all three tales, it's the personal slant of family, betrayal and memory which makes them so compelling and moving.
Bravo Figaro! tells of his attempts to have an opera staged in his dying father's home, a final gift to the man who helped shape Thomas' politics and worldview (albeit as a reaction, given that his dad was a stridently working-class Tory and depressingly quick with his fists). It's a story that could easily have become cloyingly sentimental but Thomas courageously sidesteps that with details of his father's glaring fallibilities.
In Cuckooed, Thomas is once more on the receiving end of some negative treatment from a person he had put his faith in: 'Martin', a longstanding activist beside him in Campaign Against Arms Trade, who turned out to be an undercover police officer, sent in to spy on the group. No one had any reason to doubt Martin's commitment to the cause, especially after he had stuck a custard pie in the face of the BAE Systems chairman.
Subsequent news stories of extreme surveillance operations (undercover officers conducting serious relationships purely to gain information about an organisation) meant that Thomas knew this story had legs. The Red Shed, meanwhile, verges on a nostalgic romp through the world of Labour clubs, as embodied by the one frequented by Thomas in Wakefield. Though not as emotionally stirring as Bravo Figaro! and Cuckooed, its narrative thrust is skilfully maintained with the dark suggestion that memory can be a powerful and deceptive function, especially when we continue to believe facts and situations are true when they may be nothing more than tricks of the mind.
Mark Thomas: The Liar's Quartet is out now published by September Publishing.