Political activist and comedian talks about how he brought an opera to his dad's bungalow (From Bucks Free Press)
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Political activist and comedian talks about how he brought an opera to his dad's bungalow
MARK Thomas isn’t someone you would mess with. He is straight to the point and it is obvious he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And when you look at what he has achieved you can see how this might come in handy- he has had six series on Channel 4, battled multinational corporations, exposed abuses of civil liberties and even succeeded in changing laws. He spoke to Rebecca Cain ahead of his show which is about how he put an opera on for his dad in a bungalow.
It is difficult to describe what it is Mark Thomas does. He has had many strings to his bow over his career and told me he is most proud of not having to work for 27 years. But it seems he is just being modest.
He has done so much it would be impossible to name them all. But for just a taster- in one edition of his political comedy show, The Mark Thomas Comedy Product, he tackled the issue of avoiding inheritance tax by declaring possessions available for public viewing.
Mark revealed Tory Nicholas Soames used this tax loophole, but after Mark continually tried to view his furniture, Nicholas paid the tax. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, changed the law.
He is also a Guinness World Record holder for political protests and has walked the wall in the West Bank.
But his latest show, Bravo Figaro, is closer to home, as he explores his relationship with his dad, who has a degenerative illness- progressive supranuclear palsy. He says the show is a mixture of stand up and theatre and is the true story of Mark’s father, a self-employed builder with a passion for opera and Mark’s attempt to put an opera on in a bungalow in Bournemouth.
He said: "I think it is an incredibly honest performance. "The story came about when I went on Radio 4 to talk about inheritance on a Saturday morning show and music I had inherited from my parents.
"I talked about Rossini, Verdi, Figaro songs.
"And about how my dad, a working class Tory voter, gets into opera and falls in love and becomes completely obsessed with it.
"He took it up to the building site and played it across the rooftops. "As a young punk rocker I found it humiliating."
His dad then contracted an illness called progressive supranuclear palsy which is terminal.
Mark said: "It is incurable. Basically your body collapses. You can't walk or talk. You can't see or swallow.
"There are all sorts of stuff. When that started to happen we started losing him as a person."
After the Radio 4 show Mark had a call from the Royal Opera House saying they would like to commission him to write a piece. This then led to a concert being performed for his dad in their living room, with opera singers from the Royal Opera House.
He said: "That is the story. It is the story of how my dad and I have developed our relationship.
"It is incredibly problematic at times. He was not a man who was slow with his fists- all sorts of stuff which has been there. "It is about a problematic relationship.”
The day the opera was performed in his parents’ bungalow his dad was amazingly alert, he said, and he loved every moment of it. But he said when he first got the call from the ROH he was suspicious.
He said: "I get lots of people forwarding stuff onto me like, ‘Will Mark come and perform this for me? We are doing a festival to celebrate trees up in Scotland. Will Mark come and read a poem and we will make him a sandwich.’
"And I think no. Most of them I think I can't be arsed with this- just leave me alone."
But he went to meet the creator of the festival- Mike Figgis- at the ROH, who he got on really well with. The ROH were really supportive and he started rehearsing there.
He said: "It is a beautiful place to work in. You would be on your way for lunch. We would go past the main dance studio which has glass all around it and you can see right through.
"And the Russian ballet was rehearsing and we thought- ‘What the hell was going on.’
"Then there would be us 50-year-old blokes pulling our stomachs in as we were walking past."
Mark, who has two children, said he has been getting a great response to the show, with his mum feeling like they are flying a flag for the disease, which is relatively unknown.
Mark, who is quick to point out the show is funny, said: "It is a thing a lot of people can identify with. Our relationship with our parents. It is never straight forward.
"I know that as a parent. I am far from being a perfect parent. I wish I could be but I am not. That is just the way it is."
Mark Thomas- Bravo Figaro is at the Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Thursday, February 21 at 8pm. Tickets are £15 from 01628 788997 or go to www.nordenfarm.org
For more leisure stories go to www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/leisure for I Love My Local, more interviews and restaurant reviews.
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