Theatre Royal, Wakefield, Thursday March 5, box office: 01924 211311
It’s difficult to pin a label on Mark Thomas to describe who he is and what he does.
There’s no doubt he is an entertainer but he is so much more than that.
He challenges, argues, agitates and makes his audience think and question themselves but he also makes them laugh - a lot.
Never one to back down from a just fight, he’s not afraid to challenge authority and has made plenty of enemies along the way.
I’m talking to Mark just two days before the 56-date tour of his new show 50 Things About Us is due to kick off in Plymouth.
He cheerfully admits that, although he has enough material for a two-hour show, as of now he only has 25 ‘things’ but not to worry, the other 25 will be in place before curtain up.
Unlike 2018’s Checkup - The Story of the NHS at 70, which was scripted, 50 things is “less theatrical” and a return to Mark’s stand-up roots with plenty of “mucking about” ad-libbing and audience participation.
He said: “I love the arguments, I love putting forward the things that people don’t expect to see and the things that they don’t know. I try to look at things in different ways.”
In the words of the show’s pre-publicity the main premise is ‘how did we get here, how do we have so much feeling for such a hollow land and quite simply, who do we think we are?’
Mark has a long association with Wakefield which goes back to his student days when he studied at Bretton Hall College in the 80s and honed his stand-up skills at Wakefield Labour Club. The club which was immortalised in his 2016 show The Red Shed.
Researching material for 50 Things has been quite an eye-opener and he’s learned a lot about himself and issues close to his heart.
One in particular concerns Skelmanthorpe - the village he lived in when at Bretton - and a remarkable banner that was created in 1819 to show solidarity with the victims of the Peterloo massacre who were cut down by the cavalry during a peaceful protest.
This banner,which is now in Huddersfield museum, and what it represented, was so hated by the authorities that it had to be hidden away and smuggled to demonstrations in a box.
Mark said: “It speaks of a history where ordinary working people fought for their right to vote and that’s a really powerful story.
“It’s a thing of wonder.”