Trespass: ‘to enter someone’s land or property without permission.’ ‘to commit an offence against (a person or a set of rules)’
There is no doubt that Mark Thomas achieves both of these feats in his most recent show Trespass, which was came to The West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 23rd February. Those who are familiar with Thomas’s previous shows might describe his work as a mixture between comedy, journalism and politics; an amalgamation of a stand-up show and a political campaign. This balance is difficult to achieve, and Trespass often hangs precariously somewhere in the middle.
Thomas begins the show by discussing the notion of belonging and ownership, questioning the role of ‘the other’ in every day society and touching upon pertinent ideas about identity and the (literal and metaphorical) boundaries that are enforced upon us by the socio-political context we exist in. It’s an important issue, and I’m excited to see how he’ll expand on it. He spends the first half of the show asking members of the audience to shout out numbers between one and a hundred, subsequently identifying examples from his book, 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, which outline his own commitment to breaking these boundaries.
It’s a semi-interactive process, often interjected with slightly jarring comments at individual members of the audience; one woman was singled out and told to switch her phone off. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with him doing this (and of course it is entirely dependent on each individual show) the result is that you as an audience member are made to feel self-conscious and slightly on edge. I can understand why he adopts this unapologetic stance, perhaps rooted in his overarching desire to break down societal boundaries that are manifested between audience and performer – which I admire – but I found it slightly counter-productive in that it actually served to facilitate an atmosphere of self-consciousness as opposed to inclusiveness.
Having said this, as the show went on the atmosphere definitely changed. The second act is dedicated to Thomas discussing his experiences of actively fighting against the privatisation of public spaces for and with the community. His energy and vigour is catching, something which he demonstrates when showing us photos of the vast number of people who have been inspired to join in with his acts of trespass. He extends this invitation to the audience, and judging by the whoops and hollers he receives – many people will be taking him up on the offer! One of the reasons I think this half resonates more than the first is the fact that Thomas somewhat abandons his desire to be humorous; whilst audience interaction does often elicit laughter, often of the nervous kind, it is when he begins relaying experiences that are more empowering than funny that I think his performance is at its best and most honest.
Sometimes his demeanour and abrasive language is reflective of someone trying desperately to convince others of his viewpoint, which is understandable given the nature of what he is talking about, but it doesn’t seem like any convincing is necessary for the kind of audience that are gathered. Similarly, there are times where he seems to get a little ahead of himself, caught up in the passion and the clear belief he has in what he is saying, that the audience are lost along the way as he struggles to stay on one trail of thought. It is clear he has a lot to say, which is always better than not having enough, but perhaps the material could do with a little refinement.
What cannot be denied is that Thomas never once loses his drive and his conviction, leaving the theatre rife with talk of change and hope for the future, regardless of the individual beliefs within the audience. It is refreshing to see one man on stage, doing little more than talking, yet managing to capture the attention of hundreds via his constant endeavours to push and break the boundaries that urgently need pushing and breaking.
Mark Thomas is taking this vigorous, unapologetic show across the country and you can check out the tour dates and get further information here.