Mark Thomas: ‘Dad liked opera – I was a punk!’

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

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Political activist and comedian Mark Thomas brings to Fareham the extraordinary tale of the day he brought opera to his ailing father’s bungalow in Bournemouth.

After walking the wall in the West Bank, becoming Guinness World Record holder for political protests and chasing arms dealers around the country, Mark turns his attention to matters closer to home with a show about his father.

First commissioned by London’s Royal Opera House, Bravo Figaro went on to sell out at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival and won Mark his first Scotsman Fringe First Award alongside a Herald Angel Award and numerous five and four -star reviews.

As Mark explains, the show is about love, death, fathers and sons and the search for peace in an imperfect world, with a few gags thrown in for luck.

‘My dad was an old-fashioned Biblical patriarch. He was always like he had just finished cleaving someone.

‘He was a self-employed builder and he employed me. He was well-known in the area in South London, and people would ask him for everything from cleaning gutters to building a new house.

‘He was great. My dad used to make toys for us as kids. I never knew until I was 13. He was a really astonishing craftsperson, but he was also an absolute tyrant.

‘But he used to listen to opera. He used to have it playing on the building site. As an adult he found opera and he was like a zealot. His house was full of the stuff, and I hated it on principle.

‘I didn’t understand it and I didn’t want to understand it. Anything he liked, I disliked, and I was a punk!

‘But then he developed this illness called PSP (Supranuclear Palsy). It’s often misdiagnosed as MS. It’s progressive, it’s on-going and it is incurable. It’s a destruction or a weakening of the muscles.

‘He can’t walk. He shakes. He is going blind. He can’t speak properly. He has got dementia. There are mood swings.

‘When he developed the dementia, it was like he was still there, but not there. There is a really profound sense of loss. We talked about it: it’s dad, but it’s not dad.

‘And as we experienced this loss from this incredibly physical and domineering man to this weak, sometimes confused man, I found myself starting to listen to opera.

‘I didn’t realise at the time that I was reaching out to him. ‘

But it was the start of a process which culminated in Mark bringing opera to his dad’s back room.

Mark is at The Ashcroft Arts Centre on Saturday, January 24, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £14. Go to hants.gov.uk/ashcroft or call 01329 223100.

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