If John Lewis were to open a tattoo parlour, Mark Thomas would be first in line. It is this middle-class spirit that would have disappointed his father, Thomas explains in Bravo Figaro, the second half of a powerfully humorous show, performed at mac last month. Bravo Figaro is an exceptionally poignant tour de force, describing in painstaking detail the build-up to his crowning moment as a son; using his connections to get the Royal Opera House singers into his parents’ bungalow in an attempt to revive his father’s love of opera.
His father’s mental deterioration is described simply, and, as Thomas assures us, is not the focus of the show. The emotional intimacy is lessened by Thomas’s matter of fact style, his simple stage setting and his brief descriptions of what is going on. Thomas does not allow his audience to indulge themselves in tears, this is not a sob story, it is just a story, stand-up mixed with storytelling, and we are required to laugh when told and not to answer back to any of his questions. It is the strict nature of these rules that gives his show its freedom; on the stage he has the ability to decide how to tell his story, and his performance in Bravo Figaro is truly startling.
He tells the simple tale of a hard-working man who somehow fell in love with opera, not so he could attend and be ‘as good’ as the other opera-goers but to say, as Thomas puts it, ‘ I’m better than you, because I worked for this’. We are not to be drawn in though. Thomas constantly warns his audience about over-simplifying the message; his father was crass, sometimes violent, and the language used to describe him was not for the soft hearted. However, our role is not to act as judge or jury, to assess whether he was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but instead to listen, and watch a story that has been told a hundred times but is never less personal.
This second half of the show was a great contrast to the first, yet the sides complimented each other perfectly, his ideologies summed up in a line in the latter half ‘we’re all middle class now- tell that to your cleaner, she’ll be fucking delighted’. The first half involved Mark Thomas on an empty set, telling the audience of his latest exploits, such as The People’s Manifesto and the concept of ‘book heckling’ , yet it was clear that the class issue was an important one for Thomas, and this was explained in the second half.
Surprisingly, considering the middle-class, middle-aged demographic of the audience, Thomas had the spectators roaring with laughter at their own class status, probably because he included himself in the subject of the joke. Indeed, outside of the world Thomas created for his audience, I’m not sure I would openly admit to my more middle-class tendencies, but inside the security of the theatre it was only encouraged. Moreover, book-snobbery was applauded as Thomas described the art of ‘book heckling’, placing notes inside books to congratulate the reader if they have succeeded to read at least a part of a book that could be classed as modern-trash, he mentioned Twilight and One Day explicitly.
Outside the safety of the theatre, Thomas was signing copies of his book and we tentatively picked up some book heckling stickers for a small donation, mine are still in my coat pocket, waiting for a suitable target. My partner-in-crime, however, followed Thomas’s advice to a tee, sticking ‘Staff Recommendation: Keep the Receipt’ on Jeremy Clarkson’s memoirs; a suitable way to end the days endeavours. Thomas told us openly and clearly what he felt, and we were so moved and amused that we entered into his world, and if book-heckling is allowed here, I think we’ll stay.
By Eleanor Campbell