You might think this would be the last paper that antri-corporate comedian and activist Mark Thomas would expect to be reviewed by, but no: on the first night of his week-long London run, we're beaten in the incredulity stakes by the Daily Mail. Similarly disbelieving is his account, on the stage of the theatre which recently premièred the verbatim drama Guantánamo, of Channel 4's attempt to recruit him for a show entitled Celebrity Guantánamo Bay.
Thomas is able to poke fun at his own lefty-agitator reputation and the image of those involved in various protest campaigns. Recounting an anti-war carnival held outside the US military listening base at Menwith Hill, he notes, "This is the irony of the peace movement: if it weren't for Army Surplus, we'd all be fucking naked." Much more often, though, his approach of taking an idea and twisting it that half-turn too far is deployed brilliantly to puncture his various corporate and political targets, as when he reports a friend musing, "If somebody phones up [a huge arms fair] and says there's a bomb in the building, is that technically a hoax call?"
The show (which ends a UK tour here at the Tricycle) consists of a first half breezing through several highlights of his recent anti-war shenanigans, and a shorter, more earnest second section about his part in the various campaigns against the Coca-Cola corporation. One idea is a touring art exhibition consisting of 400-odd speculative reconstructions of Coke advertisements from the Nazi German era. It's slightly disconcerting to hear him suddenly serious, even grim at times. Possibly it's because he's not simply opposing a huge, faceless multinational, but also championing people he has met from Colombia to Kerala, alleged victims of the company's policies.
The bottom line for Thomas is that "Human rights and freedoms are things you have to do, otherwise they wither and die." But he sees no reason why such action shouldn't be fun as well. At one point he uses the phrase "imaginative dissent", but skims over it as if fearing to sound too chin-stroking. But his real gift is to have grafted social conscience on to the simple appeal of being a smartarsed bloody spanner in the works.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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