Thursday, 31 January 2013

Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro – Liverpool Playhouse – 30/01/2013

I was told by my friends not to expect “A Play” because Mark Thomas does stand-up, but trust me, Bravo Figaro is very much a play.

Prior to an interval we were treated to 45 minutes or so of incisive comedy during which we learned, among other things, about the art of Book Heckling.

After the interval Mark was joined on stage by a set comprised of a chair and a number of packing cases. Although he is alone on stage this is effectively a four-hander, with his father, mother and brother making their presence felt in the narrative through some surprisingly effective symbolism and occasional interjections from their actual recorded voices.

Mark Thomas’s father, Colin, is a former builder who has a love of opera which he used to play at full blast on a cassette machine from the rooftops of building sites. This was a source of some embarrassment to Mark who, as a teenager, worked on the sites with him. Colin was diagnosed some ten or more years ago with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a degenerative brain condition. For reasons that will only become clear if you go and see the show, Mark decided to organise a concert at his parents’ home in Bournemouth with singers from the Royal Opera House, and the play tells the story of how this came about. This is illustrated by snatches of conversation that he holds with the disembodied voices of his family, each represented on stage by flickering lamps.

Now if this is beginning to sound strange, it isn’t half as strange as just how well it actually works. We actually find ourselves looking at these lamps when they “speak” and when, at the end, Mark leaves the stage with the builders inspection lamp that plays his father and then returns with it to take a bow together, it is a remarkably poignant and touching moment.

The story is told with a beautiful mixture of humour and pathos and has the capacity to make us both laugh out loud and to bring a tear to the eye.

I’m sure that many of those who are regular followers of Mark Thomas’s shows may have expected something of the order of stand-up with a narrative thread behind it. I have never seen him live before and so had little idea of what to expect. I would think though that few could have anticipated anything quite like Bravo Figaro, which is moving, funny, thought provoking and deeply personal. In his preface to the text Mark explains that this is the first time he has been required to write a structured script, mainly to satisfy the requirements of the sound and lighting technicians. What he has achieved is a unique experience that will linger long in the memory.

Bravo Figaro continues to tour venues throughout the UK with dates currently advertised until March.

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