Mark Thomas: The Red Shed

Mark Thomas’ new one-man-play blends spoken word and storytelling to create a compelling, intimate and rousing performance that lifts the spirit in this pitch perfect personal and political drama. Performed by Thomas himself, the show is largely autobiographical, choosing as its focus an event during the miners’ strike that he witnessed and his search to determine whether it is true or not. All the while weaving in his history with the titular Red Shed workers club in Wakefield where he got his start in activism and performance.

At times The Red Shed takes on a magical quality to it, like you’re not simply watching a play but are truly part of some great change that is inspiring to even be present for.

With 1 hour and 20 minutes to fill and only himself on stage, Thomas has the difficult task of keeping the audience’s attention in the huge space of the Traverse theatre but it is credit to his talents as a performer that you are completely engrossed from the moment he comes on stage to the moment he leaves it.

Indeed Thomas’ performance is outstanding throughout, being able to be at one moment side-splittingly hilarious and the next drawing tears from you. Part of what makes his script so poignant and interesting is how clearly personal it is - you develop a great deal of attachment to Thomas in his struggles. Despite the risk of the show becoming too self-aggrandising or self-important, Thomas is more than willing to be self-depreciative and as a consequence comes off as all the more relatable.

The show also uses several interesting theatrical techniques to bolster its key themes, the main one being the question of whether truth is necessary to give something meaning. Thomas plays recordings taken from interviews with people who collaborated in the project and interacts frequently with the audience, getting them to help him recreate scenes from real life or simply leading them in a rousing chorus of the Red Shed’s anthem. These techniques make the audience feel like a part of the story. Thomas weaves on and off stage and by the end the audience were chipping and cheering alongside the performer with no prompting.

Of course the fact the show is so personal to Thomas affects the general world view the show puts forward. He is not shy about expressing his political viewpoint and biases. The show is called The Red Shed, after all, and those who might be a tad more right of centre may not enjoy the very overtly political nature of the piece. For those, however, who share these views the show becomes all the more rousing and inspiring.

Thomas hits on something deep in his story about the struggles of the working classes within this country and all countries against oppression all the while filtering it through his own experiences in a way that personalizes and grounds a global struggle that has been going on for centuries and is still going on today.

At times The Red Shed takes on a magical quality to it, like you’re not simply watching a play but are truly part of some great change that is inspiring to even be present for. It is this quality, this feeling of elation and breathlessness you get leaving the performance that makes me recommend the show as one you cannot miss this festival. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

Multi award-winning comic/activist Mark Thomas performed his first gigs in The Red Shed in Wakefield, a 47-foot-long wooden hut that doubles up as a Labour Club. Three decades later he returns to celebrate its 50th birthday, entwining the story of his political coming of age with the tale of the people who inspired him. The struggle for hope and survival in a shed, a story of strikes, fights, dinner ladies and beer; friendship, love, memory and above all belief. Theatre, stand-up, journalism, activism and a small amount of help from the audience.