Mark Thomas is a comedian and activist best known for political shows that seek to both satirise the status quo and, importantly, share ideas on how to challenge it. He became the nemesis of the British establishment during the making of Channel 4's Mark Thomas Comedy Product in the late nineties, which successfully married political activism and comedy.
He thought that they were the closest of friends and political allies, until it was discovered that 'Martin' was a corporate spy.
He strayed away from political comedy with his first show at the Traverse two years ago, Bravo Figaro. It was a play that, broadly, told the story of his relationship with his opera loving father. His return to the Traverse this year showcases another non-stand-up production, Cuckooed.
The play discusses the personal cost to ordinary people of undercover spying. Through news media we now know that the deployment of clandestine cops to keep tabs on those they consider to be 'domestic terrorists' is common. What we learn from this show is that private companies can, apparently legally, also deploy such undercover spies.
Thomas tells the true story of his seven year friendship with 'Martin'. He thought that they were the closest of friends and political allies, until it was discovered that 'Martin' was a corporate spy. BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms manufacturer, had been twitchy since two women broke on to their premises and attached an expensive, deadly fighter jet with a hammer. Thomas was at the forefront of campaigns against the arms trade and so, apparently, a legitimate target for BAE surveillance.
The most moving parts of the show are during pre-recorded interviews with some of the other activists. Thomas asks them how they felt about 'Martin' before and after it was discovered that he was a spy. They talk of friendship and betrayal and raise political questions about the kind of society we all wish to live in.
Thomas is not an actor, however, he’s a stand-up comedian performing in a one person theatre piece. He doesn’t attempt to act; we are instead presented with a glorified, albeit interesting, lecture. The set is minimal, dressed with a desk and a few filing cabinets. The show's only gimmick is to have TV screens appearing from inside the cabinets, showing the pre-recorded elements.
The piece would have been much more gripping if it had been more theatrical. I hope the show develops in this direction, because the issues it raises are of fundamental importance and need to be debated.