Mark Thomas is an angry man. There’s nothing wrong with that, anyone with a social conscience has plenty of fuel for their fire right now amid a spiralling cost of living crisis backdropped by Conservative party in-fighting. The problem with his latest show is that anger is all he’s got.

Missing from Black and White is the focused target of his 2006 spotlight on the arms trade, and the painstaking research of his 2019 show based on the NHS’s 70thanniversary (to which this reviewer gave five stars). Missing also is the humanity of that work and others in his back catalogue. In Check Up, visceral swipes at the financial legacy of PFI and health service underfunding were interwoven with stories of hospital doctors, dementia nurses and dialysis patients; the unsung human beings at the receiving end of the mismanagement and political agendas that Thomas detests. Here, we just got vitriol – the collective noun for Tories is c**t, apparently – and easy targets (Thérèse Coffey as a baby-eating monster, Boris Johnson an Etonian Cookie Monster).

There were more references to masturbation than any single show requires, and the depressing notion that being edgy and risking offence (references to the Brighton bomb; an extended joke about Boris Johnson dying) is the same thing as genuinely boundary-pushing humour. This was all perhaps cathartic to the loyal fans inside Liverpool’s Playhouse, as no doubt was a collective sing-song with the sole lyric ‘F**k the Tories’. But this was ultimately an unwieldy rant, the funniest bits of which came in references to the humour of Barry Cryer and the wit of football crowds rather than in Thomas’s own writing.

Mark Thomas Black and White.

His final message that we should look after each other in the coming two years was a heartfelt moment of genuine solidarity, a nod to the fact that many more unsung human beings have powerful stories to tell right now. Politically charged humour is a powerful way to tell them, and that could have been the theme of an equally angry by more satisfying show.    

By Fran Yeoman

golden-star golden-star

Main image by Tony Pletts

Mark Thomas: Black and White is on tour until December 11, 2022. Click here for more details.