Theatre Review: Mark Thomas in England and Son

Words: Cathy Symes
Friday 29 September 2023
reading time: min, words

Cathy Symes went to see Mark Thomas in England and Son at the Djanogly Theatre...

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England and Son, by the award-winning playwright Ed Edwards, is a powerful one-man drama written specifically for the well-known political comic Mark Thomas.


The play starts and ends with our main character, scrambling out of an industrial bin at the back of some lock-ups, leaving his friend behind. This circularity is no accident, as the story walks us from the character's childhood through a tragic tale of deprivation, male violence, criminality, lost potential and addiction.


On a stark stage, devoid of scenery or props, Mark Thomas is impressive in communicating the character's complex and chaotic life. His nuanced performance presents a believable life from childhood to adulthood that is threaded with yearning and missed opportunities, violence, love and emotional devastation. Taking the production past monologue into a mirage of a populated play by ably portraying the accompanying characters.


England and Son is highly recommended. It has already won many awards including Winner – Fringe First 2023. Winner – Lustrum Award 2023 for unforgettable festival shows. Winner – Wow (Entertainment Now) Edinburgh Festival Week 1 Best Theatre Show.

the inherited violence of colonialism, and the hypocrisy of looted wealth.

Its author, Ed Edwards, writes political theatre that is unashamedly drawn from characters within his own life, and in this play he successfully gives voice to a frequently misrepresented underclass. At a time when our landscape is filled with divisive and simplistic narratives, this play seeks to place the story within a more layered context. Specifically illustrating the influences of toxic masculinity, the inherited violence of colonialism, and the hypocrisy of looted wealth.


Within this, I was aware of the absence of the Malaysian population referred to in the play and the silence of the mother who was killed by the father’s violence. Whilst the starting point has to be to understand the complex context of our stories, the challenge continues in how to give voice to the lives we represent within this. England and Son left me at the start of a conversation which is what any good Political Theatre should do.


It would be remiss of me to not mention the first part of this performance which was by Mark Thomas’s own admission only written 10 days before and delivered, he said, in response to the demand of venues for an intermission to boost their bar takings. In this, he presented us with stories of addiction and recovery from characters who participate in the workshops he and Ed Edwards run in Manchester. The laughter of the audience at tales filled with tragic comedy was abruptly halted by an account given of the others laughing, over the dead body of a young man who had died in prison from an overdose.


This is a play in development, will benefit from the participation of people telling their own stories which we were told is the intent. Yet even in these early days it challenged the audience to consider its response to the tragedy inherent in the lives Mark Thomas represented on the stage.


Mark Thomas in England and Son plays at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts from Thursday 28 September to Friday 29 September 2023.

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