The Red Shed is the third part of campaigning comic Mark Thomas’s theatrical trilogy, which began with the multi-award winning, critically-acclaimed Bravo Figaro and Cuckooed.
In the new show Mark returns to the place where it all began - the Red Shed, a labour club in Wakefield - to celebrate the club’s 50th birthday.
The Shed, home to Mark’s first public performances, is also a home to dissent, to organising and to progressive politics, and so it was here that Mark’s true political prowess began.
Originally from south London, Mark found himself in a different world. ‘I went to college near Wakefield and it was the furthest I’d ever been from home... and I’d been to France.
‘I got involved in the miners’ strike and the labour club there – the Red Shed. There was a group of us, students and local folk who were sort of our age who formed a performance group and we’d go do shows – my first shows in public were done at the Red Shed.
‘They were always raising money for local campaigns and issues. That’s where I started and came of age. And I found myself in the middle of the miners’ strike.’
Interviewing old friends and comrades for the show, Mark pieces together the club’s history and works alongside it to campaign with some of the poorest workers in the country. It is the story of the battle for hope and the survival of a community.
Part theatre, part stand up, part journalism, part activism, Mark realises his obsession with community and struggle.
So did his time in Wakefield shape his politics, or did Mark arrive with strong convictions already?
‘I think a lot of it was shaped by what happened when I got up there. I found myself in a struggle where an entire community was against the forces of the state. Soldiers were dressed as police, miners had no money, they had no union funds because they were sequestrated, they had no dole because they were on strike. And they did this for a year.
‘They were fed through collections and soup kitchens and that’s remarkable.’
Given the root of the show, is Mark worried he’s preaching to the converted with it?
‘No, I don’t think so. It’s about those places and what happened in those places. What happened between the strike and now, why we’re in the position we’re in.
‘I think the great thing about theatre is that people empathise and people see things from others’ perspective. Even if the experience isn’t yours, you get to empathise – if the only people who could understand it were those who experienced it, then the theatre would be full of old miners.
‘It’s not about one side or the other side, it’s a show about memory and the importance of working class history and our collective memory - and the battle of remembering over forgetting, which is what politics is. It’s about why we’ve ended up with Brexit – about people feeling ignored and dispossessed.
‘Some of the nicest reviews we’ve had have been from the right wing press. You don’t need to be walking in singing The Internationale to enjoy it.’
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton
Saturday, October 22