In recent years, stand-up and activist Mark Thomas has tended to flit between overtly political shows and more personal, theatrical flourishes, such as the deeply touching Bravo Figaro and the highly acclaimed Cuckooed. His latest effort in this sphere, The Red Shed, was perhaps the closest he’s come to merging the two strands of his recent output, being a personal voyage in political protest and recollection of the miners’ strike.
The titular shed, a Labour club based in Wakefield, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and this show was Thomas’ tribute to its influence and staying power throughout turbulent times. In truth, though, it was as much a reflection of the inner workings of the Red Shed as an investigation into Thomas’ own memories, notably of children in a school playground singing a workers’ anthem, and of whether his memory is accurate or a romanticised version of events.
Not surprisingly, this was incredibly fertile ground for comedy with a clearly defined message, something Thomas has always strived for in his work. We followed him as he detailed his search for the teachers and children who would’ve been there when the march passed that day, and his discovery of just how much of the landscape has changed since then. An undoubted highlight was the effective way he detailed the key people of his story, and of the Red Shed, with the touch of audience members holding masks to represent each of them being a welcome device, though it was also Thomas’ voices and descriptions which helped to bring them to life so well.
Despite being a relatively simple conceit, The Red Shed was a highly resonant rumination on the nature of memories and of stories themselves, including how they change and evolve over time as they’re told and shared, married to a commentary on the recent history of left-wing politics in the UK. A fascinating and rewarding hour.