Mark Thomas interview: 'I don't do stand-up anymore'
Thomas provides an overture to his new theatre/comedy show, Bravo Figaro!, about his domineering and opera-loving father
Why did you decide now was the time to write a show about your father?
The show came about through chance: it was commissioned by the Royal Opera House after a member of staff there heard me talk about opera and my dad on Radio 4, so there was no great plan to create the show. Bravo Figaro! exists because of a series of coincidences. There was no great burning desire to write the show until I came to do it, then it mattered. Why now? It just seemed appropriate and opportune.
How easy/difficult did you find it to write this show?
The story is a real story so the narrative part of the show was sorted from the off, the rest is filling in the gaps.
Do you think doing this show has changed or will change your relationship to your father?
Our relationships with parents change all the time, watching them become more dependent or seeing them become grandparents, for example. My dad has a degenerative illness, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), that has marked a change in our relationship more than anything else.
It looks quite cathartic to watch – is it cathartic to perform?
Actually it is huge fun to perform. The props onstage come from my family (the records are my dad's, for example, and one of the toys onstage was made for me by Dad when I was a one-year-old) so I am surrounded by familiar things AND the show uses audio recordings of interviews of my mum and dad, so I feel very comfortable onstage. I am wary of talking about "cathartic performance", it sounds crap and self-indulgent.
How aware is your father of the show's existence?
On a good day he is aware of it. The show uses interviews with him and my mum and it is hard to ignore a large recording muff when it is stuffed under your nose, but the nature of his dementia means his awareness is variable.
What do the rest of your family think of it?
PSP is a relatively little-known condition, it is often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis and it does not have the profile nor the commitment and funding for research that other neurological illness have, despite being as prevalent as motor neurone disease. So my mum is very supportive of the show as she sees it as a way of creating awareness of the illness.
Did writing this show require some disengagement with politics?
As the show is about a working class man who has no formal qualifications who discovers a love of opera, I would argue that is a fairly political story.
Is this a one-off dip into personal theatre/comedy shows, or can we expect more?
I don't know.
You do a lot of your London shows at the Tricycle Theatre, why is that?
The Tricycle is an ideal place, 220 seater, great folk who run it and an inquisitive audience. It has a reputation as the home of political theatre in London; it spearheaded the documentary plays with the Colour of Justice about the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, Guantanamo Bay and The Riots (which incidentally was the first serious attempt in any media to comprehend the London riots and their causes). So it's great to work in a place with such a reputation and such brilliant staff. Also the shows I do are more theatrical than ever so it makes sense to perform them in theatres rather than stand up clubs, I don't do stand up anymore.
When did your relationship with the Tricycle begin?
6/7 years ago the Tricycle's artistic director came to see my show, grabbed me for a drink afterwards and asked if i would like to work at the theatre. It has ended up as an unofficial London home for my work.