Mark Thomas’ Dad was, we hear, a Thatcherite before Thatcher. A builder, a boozer, a bruiser and a bit of a bastard.
This new show, Bravo Figaro!, explores the relationship between Thomas Senior and Thomas Junior. The former, Colin, is now declining due to Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and the latter, Mark, is re-examining his father’s life. Through the medium of opera.
Colin Thomas’s love of this most highbrow of art forms is typical of a man who seems made for metaphors about enigmas and riddles. As the comedian observes, the man was a luvvie’s wet dream – a man who would sit listening to Rossini and Verdi with his trousers lowered around his ankles, so as not to get the armchair dirty with the day’s labour on his work trousers – and a man who proudly, defiantly, visited the opera as a proud working-class man with a chip on his shoulder.
As his father goes downhill, Thomas is drawn to find some common ground, some way to bring his father back to the man he knew, from the shell of a man who sits in the corner of the room, in Bournemouth. He manages it through opera, but in the most extraordinary way imaginable.
It should go without saying that this is a touching, amusing and melancholic show. But it is not sentimental. Thomas does not romanticise his Dad but is able to reach – and communicate – a understanding that blood does go beyond many boundaries, despite the lack of a Hollywood moment at the very end.
Mark Thomas has always been engaging, warm, angry and very funny. But his ability to convey difficult notions and information in a way that seems like the most normal thing in the world is most evident in Bravo Figaro!.
As a curious hybrid of stand-up, storytelling and theatre it’s an enormously successful piece of work. Thomas has a turn of phrase that pulls you in and a delivery style than can prick the eyes with sympathy; his ability to tell the story of a difficult, contradictory man without relying on sentiment or shying away from some unpleasant home truths, is winning and affecting.