It’s almost nine years to the day since this reviewer saw the brilliant Cuckooed at the Traverse Theatre, and England & Son proves that Mark Thomas has lost none of his rage, or his range, for that matter.
He doesn’t so much perform as channel his characters and I’ll be astonished, and raging, if
England & Son doesn’t pick up a bucketload of awards.
I’d been to this venue before so I knew what to expect. It’s theatre in the round, so if you’re sitting in the front row be aware that you are practically part of the performance.
Mark Thomas starts the show with a howl of pain in a foetal position, as well you might if you’d
woken up in a bin round the back of Wetherspoons realising you were about to meet your fate in
the crusher of a bin lorry. There’s no nonplussed faces in the audience; we’re all drawn in, instantly.
Five minutes into the performance some latecomers arrive. It’s a tiny venue and they’re sitting less than two feet away. Breaking character, Thomas booms “Welcome” and proceeds to explain in ten seconds what they’ve missed so far. “… and now you’re up to speed”
It’s hilarious and earns him spontaneous applause. I’m not sure anyone else could pull it off with
such generosity and good grace, but such is the intensity of the first five minutes that it’s a
It’s okay, it’s Mark Thomas. We’re in good hands. He’ll take care of us.
The energy in the room never dips for a second as he carries us with him on a cinematic journey of childhood in the shadow of a larger than life Dad, a mis-spent youth and the sheer joy of doing what you’re good at, even if it’s not exactly legal.
Such is the buoyancy of his performance that by the times you realise this isn’t your average
coming-of-age story (wait…did he just describe…?) you’re running to catch up. One minute you’re laughing at, the bayonet-sharp skewering of middle-class mores, the next clutching your heart as it threatens to break.
(Be warned, if you are wearing pearls you will certainly clutch them to breaking point several times during this show)
The pacing is impeccable, the dialogue is note-perfect. I suspect that rage is Mark Thomas’
superpower, as it fuels him like fire. I mean that literally: by the end of the performance he’s
drenched in sweat, but never misses a beat.
The mastery of his performance is absolute and he carries the audience through ecstatic highs and bone-crushing lows as if on a theatrical flying carpet. Hang on tight, it’s worth it.
Did I say he’ll take care of us? He does, but only for the duration of the show.
I could have done with a hug afterwards though, I was in bits.
What to expect
We are taken to some very, very dark places. Domestic abuse, genocide, the brutality of toxic masculinity and the horror of the “Short, Sharp Shock” Children are casually tossed around like
rubbish, entirely subject to the whims of their sadistic captors.
Woven between all this is the weft of love, friendship, tenderness and genuine GOOD. We’re
invited to empathise, not pity.
The play was written by award-winning playwright Ed Edwards using his lived experience in jail
and characters from Ed’s childhood. Every single character is fully-fleshed and stands before
Lighting and sound are used to convey terror, flashbacks, blood and trauma so be careful if you are sensitive to these. The flashing lights and loud bangs are perfectly calibrated and used sparingly rather than for shock value.
Mark Thomas, as we should all know by now, requires no cheap tricks.
Mark Thomas: England & Son
Written by Deborah Murray
Author bio: Often found rescuing bees from pavements, the pinnacle of her ambition is doing the bus stop announcements on Lothian Buses, but for now she can be heard as the Announcer for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (yes, really). Proudly autistic.