Mark Thomas @ Traverse Theatre

Mark Thomas is back at Traverse with a dazzling new play

Review by Craig Angus | 16 Aug 2016
  • Mark Thomas

When Mark Thomas leaves the stage at The Traverse, we hear a voice from the row behind say. “There was a tear in my eye at the end there.” Suddenly we're conscious that we too have been totally swept up in the emotional conclusion to The Red Shed. There are no pyrotechnics to close proceedings, just a softly sung hymn of solidarity, arriving at the end of a understated hour of storytelling. The end result is disarmingly beautiful.

The premise is that Thomas – a formidable activist and advocate for social justice – returns to where it all began, The Red Shed. It’s the Labour club in Wakefield, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is steeped in history, but how does its future look? Will the next generation of socialists make the great leap forward? If they will, then they can’t afford to be complacent.

The story runs parallel to Thomas’ own personal quest, where he attempts to track down a group of schoolchildren who witnessed the miners’ strike first-hand, in their own special way. The parallel tales build slowly, and resist conventional climax. The eventual payoff – multi-faceted though it is – poses questions about how we take the lessons of history forward in practice.

It’s no one-man show. Thomas makes the audience integral to depicting The Red Shed. It’s fairly well documented that the supporting cast involves six audience members wearing a series of masks, but he physically conducts the crowd too, generating the sounds, murmurs and whoops of the time.

Thomas is on magnificent form. He fluctuates effortlessly between the conversational and lyrical, and occasionally throws an aside into the mix, like how he’s moved by the way that an old schoolteacher gets out her best crockery when he – a total stranger – comes to visit. At the time it just feels like extra detail, but the principles of kindness, equality and humility are integral to what The Red Shed represents in Thomas’ play.

Mark Thomas: The Red Shed, Traverse Theatre, 6-28 Aug (not 8, 15 & 22), various times, £8.50-20.50