I’ve caught Mark Thomas at a good time. The comedian, political activist and writer is in lockdown with his 84 year-old mother in Clapham, and whilst busy looking after her and running numerous projects, he’s had lots of time to contemplate, so has much to say.
For a man who is always on the road; gigging, travelling and creating, these past three months must have been a strange time. So does he miss his nomadic life?
“because of Covid we are now aware of how other countries see us and realise that we have become a joke – that moment where you realise ‘oh it’s us'”
“I hugely miss touring and the sheer fun of it, the people and having a live audience. It’s such a unique thing,” he says.
“But I’m glad I’m caring for my mum. It’s important that I spend this time with her, although it’s a small flat and sometimes I have to go outside just to see how the patio is,” he laughs. “I adore her obviously and she is an incredible, if argumentative woman.”
We know where he gets it from then, because Mark has made a career out of digging his heels in, highlighting difficult issues from the Iraq War to the West Bank, and then bringing them to a theatre, TV or newspaper near you, in his inimitable style.
Johnson will still go down as the worst prime minister in history, but it’s like the Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch when they answer the question with the one before.
His last gig was performed in Liverpool a week before lockdown when Mark opened the show by saying: “This is the last time you’ll be going out for a few months”. How right he was.
But of course Mark never stays still and is currently filling his time collecting NHS stories, and organising Lockdown Lives, where his previous shows are streamed monthly from theatres around the country.
Next up is Showtime From The Frontline, on Tuesday, describing how Mark set up a comedy club in a Palestininan refugee camp in Jenin and coming to The North Wall, Cornerstone, Pegasus and The Theatre Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire on Tuesday.
Mark performed the original show alongside Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada, two performers, actors and comics who have virtually reunited to introduce Lockdown Lives together, and take part in a live YouTube Q&A with the audience afterwards, something Mark is hugely enjoying.
Not only is the show’s new format helping local theatres raise some much needed income, but it is introducing Mark to a whole new audience.
“It does make you reflect on the nature of performance, that communal touch and how we are adapting. So this is about reintroducing some of the community that we’ve been missing, something to transform people’s lives for a while and take them away from all this,” he says. “It’s so important because we need to look out for each other and work together.
“Johnson is completely out of his depth. He’s like a narwhal frolicking off the coast of Greenland who suddenly realises he’s actually a donkey”
“One viewer wrote in and said how nice it was to be in a “Mark Thomas audience again” which was great. It means the streamed shows have a real feeling of coming back together.”
“And when this is all over we will be going back to Palestine and doing some more workshops. It’s so exciting working with people who have never performed before. Who knew there was a comedy circuit in Palestine?”
And yet despite this surprising and positive repercussion of Covid, Mark is still angry.
“I tell you what, writing for The London Economic really purges it all out of me. I don’t know what I’d do otherwise with all my anger. I go for long walks in the evenings. That helps.”
I hardly need ask why. “The thing is Johnson was the Brexit PM and now that’s all changed. He will still go down as the worst prime minister in history, but it’s like the Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch when they answer the question with the one before. His government has acted three months too late and Johnson is completely out of his depth. He’s like a narwhal frolicking off the coast of Greenland who suddenly realises he’s actually a donkey. And the sounds he emits instead of words…..
“Having Boris Johnson in charge is absolutely terrifying, and because of Covid we are now aware of how other countries see us and realise that we have become a joke, that moment where you realise ‘oh it’s us.’
Not a fan then? “Boris thinks that because he knows a few words of latin he’s clever. But he’s not, he’s as thick as a brick, and totally incompetent,” Mark continues, warming to his theme.” Just look at his track record. He judges success by how well he can wing it.
“And throw Cummings into the picture,” Mark says, the tempo increasing, “and it really has highlighted that there is one rule for them and another for us.
“The scars from that are never going to go away and for many people the scales have fallen from their eyes. Their love affair with Johnson is over.”
Mark’s anger is partly fuelled by his recording of NHS workers stories, week in, week out, no doubt material for his next show then? “Maybe, but I just felt a compulsion to record what was going on. I wanted to be at the heart of it. It’s what I do, who I am. I need to know and have that knowledge, to understand and question it. It’s quite instinctual really.
“I mean we think the NHS is the envy of the world. And don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing. But something went wrong, because we failed. I mean look at New Zealand or Germany. It’s just a different league. So the question has to be why have we done so badly.
“But moe than that, it’s been a privilege hearing their stories and emotions and to find out how they are coping,” and then he smiles, “but it will also make a great show, yes.”
We know what to expect next then. In the meantime Mark Thomas: Showtime from the Frontline Livestream is being aired from:
Didcot’s Cornerstone https://www.cornerstone-arts.org/whats-on
Pegasus Theatre https://pegasustheatre.org.uk
The Theatre Chipping Norton https://www.chippingnortontheatre.com/whats-on