Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro @ Traverse
Operas, like fathers: go on for too long and are full of represed emotion
At one point in Bravo Figaro Mark Thomas states that the show is not about fathers and sons. However, he seems aware that certain inescapable modes of behaviour in his relationship with his father have inevitably dictated the content of his show. Quite a way through, after the audience has built up a good deal of fondness for Thomas's father, the man who the show is about, whose image is projected large onto the back wall of the set, he reveals that the man was in fact 'a cunt'. Thomas does not want to romanticise his father or his childhood, he wants the audience to know that as well as the man's admirable qualities he could also be a distant, violent husband and father.
Yet, Thomas's affection for his dad, his respect and admiration for his values, his work ethic, his belief in self-education are the strongest ideas we are left with. The genesis of Bravo Figaro is the interesting contradiction that his father, a working class builder and hater of anyone he perceived as thinking themselves above him, comes to love classical music and opera. Despite his youthful resistance to the form the younger Thomas eventually also becomes ensnared in the charms of sopranos and hyperbolic plot. In doing so he is eventually asked by director Mike Figgis if he would like to participate in a cultural festival by providing some sort of piece on opera. Thus a plan is hatched and Thomas sets about reviving his ailing father, no longer able to attend the grand houses of the art, by bringing Royal opera performers to perform at his parents' home
The staging of Bravo Figaro is innovative and effective. Thomas will often re-enact interviews he has conducted with his family, speaking out loud his questions and the audience receiving the recorded answers. He anthropomorphically directs the questions at seemingly inanimate objects on the stage; a toy wooden ark carved by his father, a workers clamped light and a ornamental lamp. These represent his brother, father and mother respectively and as the audio of them speaking plays, the lights on and within the objects flicker, rendering them strangely alive.
This combination of intelligent and emotive staging, audio, lighting, and a story in turns touching and hilarious serves Thomas's performance wonderfully. At the show's conclusion Thomas accepts the applause of the audience, but then unclamps the lamp from where it rests, takes it in hand and performs a final bow, acknowledging the debt to his father.