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Mark Thomas outside The Red Shed where he performed his first gig 31 years ago.

The Red Shed tour with Mark Thomas

Political activist. Performer. Journalist. Self-described ‘belligerent egotist’. Mark Thomas visits St Mary in the Castle in Hastings as part of his current nationwide tour, The Red Shed: ‘a tale of strikes, fights, dinner ladies, crap beer, good beer, burger slingers, pickets, placards, commies, friendship, love, history, dreams and, above all, remembering rather than forgetting’. He will also give a talk about comedy, art, politics and misbehaving in the St Mary in the Castle café-bar, raising money for Hastings Furniture Service of which he’s the patron. HOT’s Zelly Restorick reports.

Mark Thomas from The Red Shed website

Mark Thomas from The Red Shed website

The Red Shed is a Labour Party club in Wakefield – celebrating its 50th birthday this year – and the location of Thomas’s first public performance, catalysing a 31-year – and still going strong – career.

I was surprised to see Thomas referred to on The Red Shed website as ‘a stand-up comedian’, as when we spoke, he defined himself as a performer, journalist, activist and a teller of stories, vehemently adding that if anyone was anticipating a stand-up comedian, his message to them would be: “Don’t fucking come”. His performances, he says, are “theatrical, a telling of stories. An opportunity for brevity, fun and succinctness.”

Post-factual prism

Michael Gove’s EU referendum comment – that people don’t want to be lectured by experts, but vote from the perspective of their own personal story – was one of the catalysts for Thomas’s “exploration of the world we live in… in this post-factual prism.” I was unfamiliar with the term and asked him to clarify. “Trump represents the post-factual prism.” Ah yes, I understand. The Big Picture defines post-truth democracy as “a democracy in which ignorance and irrationality hold sway over facts and reason”.

I asked Thomas if he had difficulty wading through the propaganda and agendas that constantly bombard us, in order to find ‘the truth’? ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of propaganda about… Take a look at the headlines in the tabloids this morning about the high court judges involved in the Brexit issue… the people baying for blood. It surrounds us everywhere.

“I have a strength and a belief in myself,” he added. “I tend to think that the rest of the world is out of step with me.”

You’re clearly a very confident person, battling for what you believe in, I said. Have you always been that way inclined? “I think I’ve always been argumentative. I’m a bolshie egotist. Politically engaged.”

I said that my impression was that he was a defender of people and rights. “I don’t see myself as defending people…that seems a bit weak. I’m attacking. I’m trying to organise, bring about change, engage people, communicate.”

Mark Thomas outside The Red Shed

Mark Thomas outside The Red Shed

People power

Unlike Winston Churchill, who is quoted as saying: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” Thomas believes in encouraging people to engage and get involved. “You chuck something in the air and  ask people ‘what do you think we should do?’ – and people do have ideas. I want to change the dynamic and get people involved; provide a platform where you can debate, contribute, emotionally engage with people…The collective idea.”

unknownI last saw Thomas in Hastings on his The People’s Manifesto tour, where the person next to me suggested converting high-rise buildings into cemeteries as a way of solving the lack-of-burial-space issue. Not familiar with the format? Thomas went around the country gathering individual’s suggestions for their own manifesto: members of the audience offered proposals and at the end of the show, the audience voted, their degree of support for a proposal judged by the level of their applause.

Our choice concerned that age-old cause of apoplexy: dog excrement. “People who allow their dog to shit on the pavement without clearing it up should be forced to wear it as a moustache.”

Thomas vs Rudd

Referring to Hastings & Rother Furniture Service (HFS), Thomas said that he had known the people there for years and really respected the grassroots work they do. He’s quoted as saying they’re “changing the world one chair at a time.” (The money raised from his 45-minute talk followed by a Q&A will all go to HFS.)

I said that we had some very caring, kind, generous-hearted people in this town and Thomas agreed, adding, “apart from your MP”. Thomas is referring to the decision made in the past few days by our MP and Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, that there was nothing to gain from a statutory inquiry or independent review of the police clashes with protesting miners at Orgreave in Yorkshire on 18 June 1984.

The Red Shed in Wakefield

The Red Shed in Wakefield

The Red Shed show covers Thomas’s memories – and the legacy – of the miners’ strike, including the events at Orgreave, where miners  protested the closure of the collieries, which ultimately put some 20,000 of them out of work. He’s helped raise money for – and awareness of – the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, the people campaigning to discover the truth about what happened that day.

Following the clashes, 95 miners were prosecuted for riot and unlawful assembly, although they were all subsequently acquitted. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign submission, drafted by Henrietta Hill QC, was delivered in December 2015 to then Home Secretary, Theresa May. Hill stated that an inquiry was “imperative” because South Yorkshire police led “a pre-planned, militarised police operation that involved extensive violence against the miners … the wrongful arrest of 95 miners, the deliberate falsification of a narrative against them, the immediate presentation of that false narrative by police to the media and its uncritical acceptance by the media, and the construction of 95 prosecutions and trials based on that falsified narrative”. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found evidence of excessive violence and perjury.

Free ticket at the door

In the light of Ms Rudd’s refusal to open an inquiry into the police actions at Orgreave, Thomas recently sent her a Tweet: Hey @AmberRudd_MP show about legacy of miners strike in your constituency. As your companies went bust I’ll leave a freebie on the door. Had he heard back from her, I asked? “No, but like I said, I’m leaving a free ticket at the door.” Do you get to connect with these people at the top? “No, not really. I wouldn’t know what to say anyway… apart from ‘fuck off’.”

What do you find to be most satisfying aspect of what you do? “I love telling stories and performing,” he said. And what keeps you motivated?, I asked as a final question. Briefly and succinctly he replied: “Belligerent ego.”

Mark Thomas, known for putting a spanner in the works.

Mark Thomas, known for putting a spanner in the works.

During the afternoon of Wednesday 9 November, Mark Thomas will give a talk about comedy, art, politics and misbehaving in the St Mary in the Castle café-bar in Hastings (arrive at 1.30pm for 2pm). Just 50 tickets are available for this special talk, with all proceeds going to local charity Hastings & Rother Furniture Service (HFS). Tickets for the talk are £10 from St Mary in the Castle or online

Later the same evening, Mark Thomas performs his award-winning show, The Red Shed, in the auditorium of St Mary in the Castle. Show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets, £16 and £12 for students and unwaged, available from the SMIC box office on 01424 715880 or online.  

NB: Separate tickets are needed for the two events.

hfs-with-rother-logo-1-1024x547Mark Thomas is the patron of Hastings & Rother Furniture Service, which reuses furniture and electrical goods to help low-income households and provides training and opportunities for unemployed people in the area. Read more about HFS at www.hfs.org.uk

 

Posted 09:27 Saturday, Nov 5, 2016 In: Performance


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