Anyone who stayed up during the nation’s recent general election witnessed yet another unexpected outcome, one of a string of political surprises dating back to the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, a far closer result than pundits foresaw. Throw in the Tories shock majority of 2015, Brexit, Trump, and finally May’s aforementioned snap election this spring, her widely vaunted landslide vanishing before her very eyes, one starts to wonder what’s happening to the rest of life’s certainties beyond death and taxes.
Not surprisingly, comedian and political activist Mark Thomas has tapped into this zeitgeist with a new live tour of A Show That Gambles on the Future starting in York on 3rd October, with other Yorkshire dates including Doncaster on 1st November, Sheffield on 9th November, a second date in York on 28th November followed by an appearance at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club two days later.
On opening night, the applause from Thomas’s recent award-winning The Red Shed tour is sure to still be ringing in his ears, the last performance culminating in its spiritual Wakefield home only a couple of weeks ago, the concluding date also being filmed. The ever restless Thomas has been juggling touring and writing throughout this year, with no fewer than four different shows being either performed or refined in 2017, the latter brace pencilled in for live dates in 2018 as he explains his furious work ethic with hints of his usual self-deprecation. “If you want to do shows that are interesting and have got some ideas and thought behind it, there needs to be a discipline to it, even if it looks like there is none at all”.
Thomas describes the format of his new show: “What I do is I ask people to make a forecast and write it down on a piece of paper. I sit with all these hundreds of bits of paper, work out a running order and then I go on stage and we discuss them, choosing one we think is most likely to happen. When the show finishes the people leaving each put a quid in a bucket and we take that money and use it for a bet”.
Any winnings are reinvested, helping to improve the venues from where the correct selections are made, Thomas providing an example. “There’s a lovely little arts centre in Corsham and the audience bet that Teresa May’s majority after the election would be 20 or under. They won that bet so we’ve given the venue their bet money”.
Focusing on the varying predictions each audience comes up with means each gig is guaranteed to be different to the last, its improvised nature a component Thomas has regularly utilized to great effect over the decades. “What’s great about the show is being able to play around with what’s there. It’s different every night. There’s a structure of sorts, how we live with complexity and change, deal with uncertainties. People come up with all sorts of different ideas. Ireland to repeal its abortion laws within four years, the next government to be Labour, the Tory DUP deal to collapse within a year, inflation to carry on going up. About two-thirds of my audience think Brexit will be shit and one-third think it won’t happen at all, it will collapse… I genuinely don’t know. What I find really interesting is when I look through all the old suggestions from previous shows; there was a stage when almost everyone was predicting a hung parliament.”
Talking of the 2017 election, Thomas is buoyed by the recent upturn in the fortunes of the opposition despite the highly charged political climate. “We’re living in a volatile time. I don’t want the status quo to exist. I don’t want to carry on with austerity, privatisation of the health service, students leaving college with massive debt, so when there’s change and flux, these aren’t times to be frightened, it’s time to get stuck in. When people ask me ‘Could you see it coming?’ We’ve had the banking crisis; you might not like bankers but still expect to see your money come out of the wall. When there was the run on Northern Rock it was like ‘Oh My God’. We had the expenses scandal, phone hacking, Hillsborough… all these pillars of the establishment; media, politicians, banks, police, eroded over the past decade, and there has been an increased feeling of uncertainty anyway. “
When probed on the resurgence of the Labour leader, Mark imparts his considerable political wisdom on the subject. “The thing that people forgot about Corbyn is that he’s a campaigner. This is what he’s been doing this for the past 30 years. The idea that he’d wouldn’t know what to do and would be crushed…..what’s interesting is that people seem to forget austerity is really f**king evil, it kills, and people reacted to that. When you’ve got the public sector with no wage increase because of the pay cap, student debt going up, this has an effect…all these things the Tories thought they could skate over, that stuff was bubbling away waiting to bite them in the arse. Also, the decline of the power of right wing tabloids… if you spend 13 pages saying ‘Corbyn is shit’, then on 14th page say ‘Vote Teresa May’, you’re in trouble”.
The comedian also has difficulty predicting the next Tory leader. “I can’t see Davis or Johnson becoming Prime Minister. The one thing about the Tories is they never pick favourites. Davis is damaged goods, he’s a bruiser. Johnson’s been exposed and the thing about him is that he’s a favourite with the faithful but those who don’t like him REALLY don’t like him. What the Tories are looking for is someone they think will be a unifying candidate. They f**ked up on May who they thought would be a unifying candidate so they have to look somewhere else. They’re a bunch of vipers but what keeps them disciplined is the prospect and proximity of power. At the moment they’re in a real f**king mess and when May goes, they might be in a similar position to when Major lost the election. After that they went through a whole bunch of leaders… Hague, Duncan-Smith, Howard; it’s very difficult to see who will be next with the main contenders having so much baggage. But, they do like an outsider… Thatcher was the outsider, Major was the outsider, Cameron was the outsider”.
So if you fancy an outside bet, lots of laughs, and something to make you think, you know what to do. Visit