It’s fair to say Mark Thomas isn’t your average comedian. A career spanning more than 30 years has seen him scoop all the big comedy awards and star on television, but he’s also noted for his human rights work and numerous acts of political dissent, speaking truth to power as a regular thorn in the side of the establishment.
But it’s the Wakefield Labour Club, known as The Red Shed to its regulars, where it all started for Mark as a student and comedy novice in the 1980s. It’s a corner of Yorkshire far removed from his upbringing in south London, the son of a Thatcher-rite, in an area where the individual was considered key.
“The Red Shed show is in part a celebration of Labour clubs, the Labour movement and also an examination of history,” he says, explaining how it helped to shape his future. “Socially, politically and culturally, it was an exciting place for me and part of the fabric of student life during the miners’ strike.”
It’s a real fun show and what I love is that the audience has to join in.
With the club’s 50th anniversary approaching, it was talking to the committee which triggered the memory of marching past a primary school playground and hearing the children singing Solidarity Forever to the defeated miners as they trudged home. “But I can’t remember the name of the village or the school,” Mark says, unsure if it really happened or not. “So the show is about finding that place and those children. It’s a story about a story, but also about community and remembering.”
It’s also a tale of friendship, love, struggle and hope. “It’s a real fun show and what I love is that the audience has to join in. I get the audience to sing and six volunteers will be required to re-enact certain scenes after I interviewed old friends and comrades. The show can’t exist unless people join in.”
The fact the show is going on in places outside of the mainstream is absolutely thrilling and is absolutely right. I think there’s a large swathe of theatre that just doesn’t connect to working-class communities in a meaningful way.
Praising the original Hull Truck venue, Mark clearly has fond memories of earlier appearances in the city, noting that Hull isn’t short on civic pride at the moment. The Hull schools chosen to host the production are a departure from the usual circuit of theatres and town halls, but it’s something he relishes. “The fact the show is going on in places outside of the mainstream is absolutely thrilling and is absolutely right. I think there’s a large swathe of theatre that just doesn’t connect to working-class communities in a meaningful way.”
As much as the award-winning show connects Mark back to his formative years, there’s no sense that he’s about to stand still or repeat early work. “I can’t see the point of not trying new things,” he says, the unique spirit and legacy of The Red Shed safe in the best possible hands. “I’ve worked all my creative life to produce interesting and relevant stuff. I’m not going to stop now.”
Mark Thomas brings The Red Shed show to Archbishop Sentamu Academy on 24 February and Kingswood Academy on 25 February as part of Back To Ours festival.
More tickets to these sold-out shows will be released at pop-up box offices on Saturday 4 February, 10am-2pm, at:
- Bus Stop Cafe, opposite The Mount Retail Park, Holderness Road
- North Point Shopping Centre, Bransholme
- Texas Tony’s Cafe, near St Andrew’s Retail Park, Hessle Road