Director: Joe Douglas
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Mark Thomas has made a career out writing the wrongs of politicians, shaming major corporations and holding arms dealers to account for some of their nefarious actions. Previous shows include Trespass and 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, saw Thomas fighting the good fight and sticking it to ‘the man’. However his latest show, The Red Shed is a different beast altogether: this is a love letter to a working people’s social club in Wakefield which had a huge impact on a young Thomas, and played a huge part in shaping the man we see today. And this year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
With help from Kate Bonney’s set design and a few borrowed chairs, the Everyman Theatre is transformed into the red shed of the title. Thomas begins his tale…It is 1985 and the last days of the minor’s strike; drama student Thomas has joined the minors on their march back to work and Thomas vividly remembers passing a school, in which the children were on the playground singing their support for the minors. This is a memory that has stuck with Thomas, however is it true? Did this actually happen or has Thomas simply romanticised this event? So begins a quest starting from a 47 x 18 ft shed located in the heart of west Yorkshire.
Thomas is on fine form, friendly, charming, he is an engaging raconteur: his charisma and passion instantly draws you in. Regardless of your political reviews, you cannot help be bowled over and touched by this fascinating story. It isn’t sentimental and it isn’t saccharine filled; it’s just a good solid funny story. Thomas does draw comparisons between what was happening then and what is happening now, and how poverty and unemployment are rife in certain areas, however this isn’t preachy or sanctimonious: just a sad inescapable fact.
Those expecting a straight stand-up show had better think again – this is storytelling, this is theatre. Director Joe Douglas has reigned in Thomas, making this a more a subtle performance (subtle by Thomas’ standards at least). Thomas is without a doubt the lead but like any good story there are other players too: Thomas has selected a few audience members to play the parts of other key characters in this story, helped with face masks and a tape recorder: it’s a nice touch and highlights that this wasn’t a one man crusade but very much a team effort.
This was a fun thought provoking and inspiring piece of work, full of passion and humanity and is well worth seeing. There is one part of the production which involves the audience having a bit of a-sing-along in the red shed: Who doesn’t like a sing-song? If that doesn’t make you to pay a visit to the red shed then nothing will!
Reviewed on 16th September 2016