This is a one-man show with a difference. Written and performed by comedian Mark Thomas, it could almost pass for a normal stand-up act, except that this is surely the first to centre around a love of opera, rather than to treat the art form as a sitting duck for ridicule.
And just how many routines have captured the entire history of a father-son relationship, culminating with Royal Opera singers staging a concert in the dad’s own living room, without needing to resort to fiction?
Thomas’s creation is all about the contradictions that lie within so many of us. His father was a working class Tory, proud of the building firm he had established and puritanical in his attitudes towards hard graft. Yet, despite despising the very notion of being middle class, he developed a love of opera that would see him not only attend Covent Garden, the Coliseum and Glyndebourne, but also play tapes of Rossini and Verdi on the building site.
Thomas never romanticises his relationship with his father, which he feels will never be resolved. He was a difficult man, and being on the wrong end of his temper could have severe consequences. After suffering for ten years with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, however, Thomas wanted to give his dad the gift of a personal concert as a way of saying a ‘beautiful’ goodbye when so many prove to be messy. The opportunity arose in the first place after he was asked to write something for the Royal Opera House.
Thomas succeeds in hooking us into his world for the entire evening by combining the downright hilarious with the poignant and emotionally stirring. He is, after all, describing a man who is still alive, and yet will never again be the person he once knew. Featuring genuine recordings of his father, mother and brother, so much of the interest derives from the frequent displays of basic human detail. For example, we hear how Thomas’s mother was reluctant to stage the concert in case her husband needed the toilet during it, and how she then gripped their dog tight throughout the performance to stop it from attacking the organiser.
Before the interval Thomas delivers some more conventional stand-up, combining anecdotes from his own life with ideas deriving from his comedic project and book, The People’s Manifesto. Although conceptually this sits uneasily with the second half, it lays the foundation for his laid back performance style — which every so often includes more highly charged moments — that is put to such good use during the main act.
Until 6 October at the Tricyle Theatre. Tickets: 0207 328 1000 or from the Tricycle Theatre website.
English National Opera perform Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, much cited in the play, at the London Coliseum from 25 February 2013.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket from Unavoidable PR.