Mark Thomas Loses A Friend To Make A Winning Play
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
A take-down of corporate snooping is the kind of theme we'd expect from political comedian Mark Thomas. Earlier this year, his one man play, Cuckooed — of which "every word is true" — caught the attention of Amnesty International and scooped their Freedom of Expression Award. Though the intrusion of private lives is integral to the play, this is not the theme at its heart. Cuckooed is more of personal affair than a political one — an uncomfortable examination of friendship and trust.
Some years ago, Thomas joined Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), an NGO run by the kind of people, he tells us, "who consider quiet to be the definition of a good weekend". Nesting among their ranks was a man known as Martin. The two quickly became friends and Thomas reenacts past glories of their activism, with Martin rendered as the kind of mate who is always on the end of the phone. Both had similar backgrounds, similarly irreverent attitudes and senses of humour. What could go wrong? Well, it turns out Martin was spying on CAAT for the very manufacturer they campaign against.
Yet, it is not this that makes Cuckooed a truly interesting play. It is in the unflattering way Thomas responds to the revelation, becoming a flawed protagonist in his own drama. What perhaps starts as an honourable impulse to believe the best in his friend, quickly grows into righteous anger and an absurd avoidance to look at the documented evidence against Martin. But it remains compelling, for this is a relatable story of a universal, human reaction of not wanting something bad to be true. Events may be set against the backdrop of political activism and the arms trades, but these are the mistakes we all make in friendship and in trust.
With courage, Thomas doesn't flinch from reliving a cringing blast of a phone call he made to CAAT's parliamentary co-ordinator. The eventual apology is also reconstructed and, with the help of Emma Callender's clever set design, makes for one of Cuckooed's most affecting scenes. As Thomas interacts with a pre-recorded interview of his former friend, the staging of this seems to melt away and we are alongside a grown man saying sorry, watching as his status and posture crumple into the hunched shoulders of little boy shame.
Thomas takes comfort and recovery from a string of rebound "revenge fucks", luring arms dealers into traps for which they can be shut down or held to account. Despite this he continues to pine for a full explanation from Martin. There is no doubt all this has put Thomas through the emotional mangle, and the lack of resolution must leave him with little peace of mind. It is impossible not to empathise with such a human tale, but it is this lack, and the lingering sense of unease, which marks Cuckooed as a powerful piece of theatre.
By Ben Venables
Cuckooed is on at the Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JR, until 13 December. Tickets £19/£23 (£16 concessions).
Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 02 December 2014