Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Here’s something you don’t see every day: Trespass begins as a comedy gig and concludes as a political protest with polite theatre patrons turning the air blue with obscenities.
Comedian, performance artist and political activist Mark Thomas loves cities. Taking the position that our place of residence shapes our sense of identity he adores the way cities offer both anonymity and a feeling of community. He, therefore, deplores the way that soulless corporations are now able to encroach on public space and limit the activities that individuals can undertake in the vicinity of their developments.
Thomas has discovered, however, that minor acts of rebellion can, if ridiculous enough, cause surprising irritation for the authorities and even generate change. His new show, Trespass, chronicles his opposition to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s greed by staging a 10 kilometre walk, complete with cheering crowds, in a public space only yards wide outside their headquarters and organising a performance art event where citizens scribbled, Bart Simpson style, ‘I must not chalk the pavement’ on pavements in Oxford. It is infantile and irritating but bloody funny. Thomas’s ludicrous exploits demonstrate not only the ridiculous nature of gentrification but also that it is possible for individuals who are beneath the notice of corporations to have an impact.
Trespass offers extremely good value for money as Thomas acts as his own support with the first part comprising extracts from his previous tour 100 Acts of Minor Dissent. It is very funny especially Thomas bemoaning that his Police record refers to him as an ‘alleged comedian’. ‘A one-star review from The Met’ he moans. The sheer quality of the second Act, however, ensures that the opening can only be classed as a warm up.
The irony of Thomas objecting to gentrification while performing in a venue situated in Salford Quays -an area that has been the subject of extensive renovation- is not lost on the performer. Thomas must be unable to believe his luck at a recent act of gesture politics by Salford Council. Rather than tackle, say, the high incidence of gun crime in the city the Council has passed a public order banning the use of foul language in the refined areas surrounding The Quays. Correctly inferring that the order is intended to intimidate local children rather than high-profile comedians Thomas wrote to the Council to make them aware of the swearwords that will be used tonight
Thomas concludes the part of his show within the theatre by reading aloud the list of swearwords, which is six pages long and in alphabetical order. Thomas is very well spoken; his on-stage persona is a cross between a Shakespearian actor and an evangelical preacher. To hear such a barrage of filth spoken with clear precision is funnier than you can imagine and by the time he has finished parts of the audience are crying with laughter.
As Salford Council has helped Thomas prove his point about the arrogance with which corporate bodies behave if unchallenged, he shows his gratitude by organising the audience to march from the theatre and join the Commoners’ Choir outside to ‘eff and blind’ in a round-robin ‘swearathon ‘ cheerfully breaching the order.
While circumstances at The Lowry are unique potential audiences in other areas should still seek out Trespass. Mark Thomas would be crazy not to retain the sequence reading the list of swearwords and corporate stupidity and political ignorance is pretty much universal these days and you can be sure that he will be capable of finding examples in other areas.
Reviewed on 10March 2016 | Image: Contributed