Last year Wakefield Labour Club, aka The Red Shed, celebrated its golden jubilee and, to celebrate, left leaning comedian Mark Thomas created a very moving tribute show, playing to sell-out audiences across the country. In traditional Thomas fashion, the tour has come full-circle, culminating with a final performance back in Wakefield at the city’s Theatre Royal.
Presumably Wakefield’s show will be followed by a post-gig pint or two back at The Red Shed, still one of Thomas’s favourite haunts. The connection with this small but perfectly formed wooden edifice has lasted three decades, back to the time when London-born comedian was a drama student in West Yorkshire during the height of the year-long Miners’ Strike. Thomas’s involvement in helping the Miners’ cause back then led him to the The Red Shed, where like-minded associates helped fuel his political awakening during a pivotal moment in the country’s industrial and political history; the upshot leading to Thomas’s first ever live performances, the venue’s intimate surroundings serving as the ideal forum, helping the comedian first cut his teeth in front a live audience.
The central theme of Thomas’s Red Shed features a story involving himself from the 1984-5 strike, encompassing conflict, camaraderie, friendship, remembrance and ultimately hope along the way. Also, in true Thomas style, there’s also plenty of audience participation, not to mention trivial silliness, bringing welcome doses of levity to a subject matter still scarring the affected communities 30-odd years later.
Last autumn TSOTA interviewed Thomas before his earlier Red Shed shows in the county, touching on his connection with the Red Shed. Not surprisingly, the comedian was only too keen to reminisce: “It’s a fantastic place I’m very lucky to have been part of, and sort of grown up politically in. It’s a 47 foot long wooden shed and 50 years old this year, an incredible story and metaphor for radical politics of the left that this place survives. The Shed is the first venue where I did public performances and we’re not talking stand up, it was just me and my mates performing this weird little political theatre; we’d write the show in the afternoon and put it on in the evening. Throughout my career I’ve gone backwards and forwards to The Red Shed, performed there, worked there, done gigs there and broadcast from there.”
That full interview with Mark Thomas can be read and what’s interesting when reading again, only 9 months later, are Thomas’s comments of hope with regard to the spread of unionisation in some service sector industries. With the recent election result, perhaps indicating the beginning of an upturn in fortunes for the left, Thomas comments seem pretty prescient, proving he still has his finger on the pulse.
What’s certain is tickets for this will be like gold dust come the week of the show, so snap them up while you can.