‘Croydon gets a bum deal’: Interview with Mark Thomas

By - Tuesday 14th May, 2013

Mark Thomas has made a career out of troublemaking. Now the comedian, activist, and iconoclast is bringing his new show to Croydon, in more ways than one. Tom Black had a chance to chew the fat with the man

Photo by Steve Ullathorne

Mark Thomas seems to be the man of the hour in an increasingly dissenting age. It was he, after all, who crowd-sourced a policy document when he launched the acclaimed People’s Manifesto for the 2010 general election. Since then, Bravo Figaro, a moving look at his father’s love of opera, won plaudits from comic and straight critics alike. His new show, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, does exactly what it says on the tin.

‘I’m going to do 100 things in the course of a year,’ he explains, ‘and turn it into a weird and bizarre show.’ Things? What sort of things? He chuckles. ‘It’s all good silliness and interventions. Some of them are overtly political and some of them are just fun.’ I ask if we can have a sneak preview. No chance – ‘you’ll have to come and see it!’ he insists. Luckily for me, I’ve got tickets to see him at Matthews Yard on 21st May. Watch out for a review the next day.

Do we get through all 100 acts in the show? ‘No,’ Thomas explains, ‘because the clock starts ticking on Monday 13th May. On that day, the year begins.’ It’s an apocalyptic pitch for what sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun.

‘It’s highly unlikely that I will get through the year without being arrested.’

It won’t all be fun and games, Thomas assures me. ‘I’ve got a small team of people with me,’ he says, ‘I’m very lucky. We’ve got a couple of performers, some designers, some artists, but when you look at the team, the biggest group is lawyers.’ After a pause, he adds in a tone that’s more resigned than excited, ‘It’s highly unlikely that I will get through the year without being arrested.’

‘It’s quite a bizarre challenge, because all the things I like range from bizarre performance art, to collective art, to public art, all the way through to Dave Allen. Anything between that can happen.’

What keeps him going? ‘I just think you want to have as much fun as possible. The interesting thing for me is, as the world becomes increasingly full of shit, each and every day I shall do something that does not comply with it.’

He’s stood up to Thatcher, Blair, Israel, and the Coalition, among others.  Is this new show – if it can be called just a show – more fun than usual? ‘It’s quite a nice way of just going, “that’s it, this is the line.” Every day you put yourself in a situation where you go “this is interesting”, it could be silly, it could be a tiny thing, but there are various things we’ve got which are quite big.’

I try my luck again at getting a preview of said things. He catches me out once more, but explains why he really must remain tight-lipped. ‘There’s loads of stuff we’ve not finished and we haven’t even thought of yet. Once you get the ball rolling you just know that things are going to happen. The great thing about starting something like this is the things that are, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, “things that I know that I don’t know.”‘

I say that when I found out I’d be interviewing Mark Thomas, I did not expect to hear him quote Donald Rumsfeld. He laughs. ‘Well, if you need something fundamentally idiotic…’

‘It’s just lazy-arse thinking by a bunch of bloody yuppie hoorays.’

I ask Thomas, a South London boy himself, if he’s had much experience of Croydon.  ‘Croydon always gets a bum deal,’ he says immediately, ‘when it comes to social perceptions in London. It’s just snobbery. It’s just the most awful kind of rubbish.’

‘People always try to find something to look down upon. They look at things around them, things close to them. Small things become important, significant, if you want them to be.’

He sighs, then adds with a flash of anger, ‘it’s just lazy-arse thinking by a bunch of bloody yuppie hoorays.’ He explains that his wife is from Birmingham. Whenever this fact comes up in conversation, half the people he meets reply with ‘Oh, Birmingham!’ in a cod-Brummie accent. ‘And you just want to punch them in the fucking face. How people view Croydon is the same kind of awful, instinctive societal kneejerk.’

We talk about how Croydon is perceived nationally and even internally. He reflects. ‘It’s not just snobbery, actually. I hate the word ‘chav’ – what it is, is it’s class snobbery. I always instinctively feel protective when people behave like that.’

‘Slough gets the same treatment – it’s always the places that are just outside of London. People think they can look down on it. Slough is a great, really diverse place.’

Can Croydonians expect more than just the show to take place here?

He’s impressed by the steps being taken by the community to change attitudes towards Croydon. ‘I’m glad you’re taking a pro-active stance, that’s good,’ he says of the transformational media approach being pursued by The Croydon Citizen, and lights up when he hears that the theatre in Matthews Yard was crowd-funded.

‘It’s great to be able to do three nights,’ he says,  ’it’s almost like a little mini-residency.’ I note his ‘year’ will be underway by the time he arrives at Matthews Yard. Can Croydonians expect more than just the show to take place here? There’s a long pause. ‘Yes,’ he says at last, ‘things will be happening in Croydon.’ I laugh, but before I can ask for details, he holds up a hand. ‘And that’s all you’re getting out of me.’

Croydon, perhaps more than some parts of the country, could do with a few acts of minor dissent. Here’s hoping Mark Thomas brings some with him – and inspires us to come up with some of our own.

Mark will be performing 100 Acts of Minor Dissent at Matthews Yard on the 21st, 22nd and 28th of May. You can book tickets online here.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • http://twitter.com/CroydonRadio Croydon Radio

    Great interview. First saw Mr Thomas at the Banana Cabaret in Balham about twenty years ago. Looking forward to his visit to Croydon.