Arts Review: Cuckooed

Dir. Emma Callander, Tron Theatre, 10th-12th Feb

A few filing cabinets emblazoned with different posters and slogans, and a single microphone. Mark Thomas takes to the sparsely decorated stage; the atmosphere in the Tron Theatre is buzzing and expectant. He launches straight into an explanation of how he will be introducing his own act tonight – this unconventional move is followed by an equally eccentric anecdote about a friend of his, a former tortoise impersonator (is that a career?) with whom he had a long-standing and tenacious battle over £2.50 and a comedy gig.  If you think that sounds a little bizarre, it most definitely is. And thus begins a compelling two hours of performance; a foray into the intoxicating excitement of political activism, the examination of a friend’s betrayal and the boundaries between truth and deception.

Cuckooed: the insightful and funny winner of the 2014 Amnesty International Freedom of Speech Award. The first section of the performance is peppered with allusions and tales – campaigns and activists, court cases Thomas has won and victories he has achieved. He often sounds gleefully triumphant when recounting these: highlights include his discussion on how a potential forfeit donation of £1000 to UKIP spurred him on to complete his 100 acts of dissent. The frenetic, fast-paced performance is a mixture of self-deprecating stand-up and humorous storytelling, a contrast to the second half in which Thomas details his experience with the anti-arms movement and how the organisation was compromised by a spy in their midst. The drawers in the cabinets roll out to reveal screens upon which videos of Thomas’ friends and colleagues occasionally appear, recalling events as the specifics of the betrayal unfold. A man named as Martin, Thomas’ comrade in the fight against arms dealing, was accused of passing on information about the activists and their campaigns to major arms-dealer BAE; those closest to him refused to believe it until they saw the convincing and conclusive evidence for themselves. The sense of raw, incomprehensible betrayal is palpable and raises questions not only about personal duplicity, but the potential betrayal of the state with its citizens’ data. Can we really trust anyone in such a climate?

[Rachel Walker]

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