Sitting in the shadows of the fairly new Trinity Shopping Centre near the now closed Conservative Club, there is a Red Shed, also known as Wakefield Labour Club.
Having miraculously survived various redevelopments in the city centre the Red Shed celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The Red Shed is the political origin of comedian Mark Thomas’s activism, so to celebrate its birthday he put on a show and took The Red Shed on tour.
The Liars Quartet collects the scripts of The Red Shed and his previous shows, Cuckooed and Bravo Figaro!
Having seen The Red Shed performed live I wasn’t quite sure how it would work as a book. I have seen a number of Thomas’s shows, and they have always turned out to be a lot less spontaneous than they first appear to be.
But, as Thomas points out himself, he first scripted his show Bravo Figaro! because “people kept shouting at me. Technicians shouting the loudest, demanding to know when to play sound cues and turn the lights on and off.”
So it does make sense. And it does work — as I read it I could not only hear Thomas’s voice but the voices of other characters from The Red Shed.
Without spoiling the end, the story Thomas weaves into his Red Shed production is his memory of the end of the miners’ strike, seeing children at a primary school sing “Solidarity Forever” as the miners marched back to work. The show is based around searching the area for the school and those who sang the miners back to work.
The Liar’s Quartet includes the scripts of two of Thomas’s earlier shows, Bravo Figaro! and Cuckooed. The first is based around Thomas’s dad’s love of opera. His dad suffered from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy at the end of his life. I had the lovely image of his dad singing opera from the Bravo Figaro while he was working on building sites. It is really a fitting goodbye to the man who raised him.
Cuckooed is Thomas’s response to finding out one of his mates and a fellow activist in the Campaign Against the Arms Trade was a police spy.
Thomas uses his wit to send out sharp political messages. He tells stories extremely well, but he is not just a comedian and storyteller. He is also an activist and his shows and books encourage others to be the same.
If you didn’t get a chance to see any of the plays, buy the book — and if you did, buy it anyway as it will remind you how political activity can sometimes be fun.