It’s a story about the miners’ strike, he tells us, but promises that there will be no brass bands and that no young boys will discover a passion for ballet.
He brings on stage six members of the audience (pre-selected in the theatre foyer, so don’t worry about being pounced on in the auditorium). With chairs borrowed from real The Red Shed and a selection of face masks, these volunteers help Mark in the telling of his story, by miming the parts of various characters from his past.
Mark has a very vivid memory of the miners’ march back to work in 1985, and seeing all the children through the railings of a school playground, singing to their fathers, uncles and brothers as they march past on the way back to the pit. He had been invited to join the march, but cannot remember the name of the particular village or pit, or of the woman who invited him.
The problem is that, over the intervening 30 years Mark has re-told this story so many times that he can no longer tell how much of it is the truth and how much might be his own memory romanticising the details. He resolves to make the journey to find the woman, the village, the school and the children, and to find the truth behind his memories.
So it is that, through a series of anecdotes, some true and some clearly imagined, we follow his quest up hill and down dale through the former mining villages. The sites of the pits are frequently marked by no more of a memorial than a new branch of McDonald’s, and schools have been demolished or turned into something else. Nothing quite strikes a chord, until...
To tell what conclusions he reaches would be to extinguish the magic of Mark’s storytelling, and he should be borrowing another recent show’s hashtag, #KeepTheSecrets. In getting to his tale’s destination, he finds a convoluted route that takes in a number of other quests, including the campaign to unionise fast food outlets, discovering a little known fact that finally makes eating a Gregg’s Sausage Roll a guiltless pleasure.
Those who recall Thomas’s previous work will be familiar with his unique brand of storytelling, in which he blends fact and fiction to achieve powerful delivery of a message. There is a deliberate ramping up of the emotional tension in the room, with audience encouraged to participate in building the atmosphere. In 95 unbroken minutes, The Red Shed brings us stand-up comedy mixed with something more theatrical and plays to our sense of truth, whether it’s a truth that we know exists or a different truth that we’d like to make happen.
Following its 2 performances here at the Everyman, The Red Shed continues its extensive tour via Bristol, Nottingham, London, Glasgow and beyond. See Mark Thomas’s website for ongoing tour dates.
|Mark Thomas in The Red Shed - Photo (C) Sally Jubb|
Review originally written for Good News Liverpool