Back at the start of this year, Northern Soul asked Mark Thomas what sort of form his next touring show might take, to which he replied: “Who knows! I tell you what – if you know, let me know.”
In the event, he’s taken that principle and run with it. On arrival at A Show That Gambles on the Future, audience members at Sale Waterside are presented with a printed greeting from Thomas containing a request for them to write down short to long-term predictions about the future. In that respect, as with his earlier shows The People’s Manifesto and 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, he’s putting the punters right in the driving seat.
It’s a contrast to most of Thomas’s more recent shows such as Bravo Figaro, Cuckooed and The Red Shed, which have been constructed around telling extremely personal stories. This is nowhere near a free-for-all, though. Thomas is a canny performer and knows that certain key subjects – the Tories, Trump, Corbyn, Brexit and our old pal The Spectre of Nuclear Armageddon – are likely to dominate the submitted predictions. Possibly, then, it’s not entirely like starting from scratch every night. Sure enough, the most popular ideas to be discussed tonight include ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn to be this year’s Christmas number one’ and, um, ‘Socialist carpenters to secretly install ramps with an extreme camber around the White House’ (because Trump is terrified of ramps, apparently). All this interaction is framed with material about Thomas’s turbulent childhood relationship with his father, and while the link there is perhaps a bit spindly – something along the lines of past experiences shaping what we expect from the future – it’s still fine stuff. Plus, it lends the show a pleasing sense of shape, and those who have seen his Bravo Figaro show will appreciate the way in which this autobiographical material slots alongside that.
Thomas’s recent story-based shows were undeniably powerful, but the more free-wheeling set-up here is successful in showcasing a very different side to him. Needless to say, his furious sense of social justice is intact, and there are certainly serious moments marbled through the more loopy supposition. For instance, there’s some discussion of the overlooked plight of the Kurds and an astute, whistle-stop look at why the possibility of presidential impeachment is still years away.
But there’s far more to Thomas than just the politics. He’s a seasoned, magnetic performer, entirely capable of whisking up intelligent, stimulating entertainment out of next to nothing. One more light-hearted suggestion revives Thomas’s years-old bugbear about him and fellow comic Mark Steel being mistaken for each other all the time, always a rich source of comic frustration and bafflement. A Show That Gambles on the Future may be less obviously theatrical than some of his endeavours, but in its own way it’s no less satisfying.
Oh – and as regards the title, the punchline is that Thomas goes off back home to South London to place bets on the most popular prediction from each show. The routine about his local Kiwi bookie ringing through to get odds on assorted flights of fancy is priceless. What the Christmas number one will turn out to be remains to be seen – as does the matter of exactly where Thomas is headed next. On this showing though, that’s really nothing to worry about.
For tour details for Mark Thomas: A Show That Gambles on the Future, click here.