A pair of comedians, Mark Thomas and Ross Sutherland, are entering uncharted waters with debut Fringe theatre shows, as Mark Brown discovers

A one-time Tory builder, and an extremely hard task- master throughout his son’s childhood, Thomas’ dad is now suffering with the degenerative illness Progressive Supranuclear Palsy father-son relationship is considered in light of not only the father’s illness, but also his love of opera. (PSP). A difi cult

‘We’ve done a few preview shows, and what’s really shocked me is that, after I’ve talked about something so personal, the audience reciprocate. People come up afterwards and they want to talk about what’s happening to their parents, and the illnesses their folks have had.’



people coming out of the preview shows are anything to go by, Traverse audiences can expect a very funny, inspiring and moving experience.

Where Thomas is applying his established techniques of storytelling and campaigning to a very personal subject, acclaimed young writer/ performer Ross Sutherland overturns our expectations of comedy by repeating the on-stage death of a i ctional stand-up comic. In Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke the audience play various roles from a barman to a heckler to the comedian, Joe ‘Pops’ Pooley, himself as we watch the performer die on stage seven times. ‘I keep thinking of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day,’ says Sutherland. ‘My show has the same sort of narrative process, really. You’ve got the frustration, at the start, of being sent back to the beginning.’ The difference here is that it’s live. As a theatre maker, Sutherland is working without a safety net. ‘I was interested in how stand-ups repeat their material, but also how it changes over the course of a run,’ Sutherland explains. ‘I wanted to do something that let an audience into that process.’ The dangers, not least of an egotist derailing the show, are clear to Sutherland. He’s engineered a structure which makes the piece ‘self regulating’. ‘If one audience member goes off-script it usually goes so terribly that subsequent ‘comedians’ snap back to following the autocue. Audience members learn from each others’ mistakes.’

Bravo Figaro!, Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, 4–26 Aug (not 6, 13), times vary, £18–£20 (£13–£15). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £13 (£6); Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, 4–27 Aug (not 13), 2.30pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50). Previews until 3 Aug, £5.

W e know Mark Thomas. The radical, left-wing comedian and activist famously drove a tank disguised as an ice cream van up Whitehall in a televised attempt to have it exported to Iraq. More recently, he has been doing stage shows recounting his experiences walking the Israeli separation barrier ‘for fun’. However, his latest show, Bravo Figaro!, which plays at the Traverse Theatre throughout this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, subverts expectations. Subtitled ‘how to put on an opera in a bungalow in Bournemouth’, the piece is a deeply personal exploration of Thomas’s relationship with his father.

As this is a Mark Thomas show, it will come as little surprise that the personal is also political. ‘I think any show that involves a working-class man who leaves school at 14, with no qualii cations, and discovers a love of opera is political.’ The show also has a campaigning dimension. Thomas is working with the PSP Association, who are sending doctors along to the show. The aim is to raise both awareness of the illness and funds for research. ‘It’s an unknown disease compared to things like Motor Neurone Disease or Multiple Sclerosis,’ says the comedian, ‘but, actually, it’s as prevalent as Motor Neurone.’ If i rst accounts from 68 THE LIST 2–9 Aug 2012