Mark Thomas: Black and White ★★★★★

Mark Thomas returns to the Fringe with an excoriating critique of UK and world politics and an unexpected swerve into music hall

It’s often stated that good comedy accurately reflects society, potentially driving social change.  Given the depressing state of UK and international current affairs, it might therefore be expected that politically-themed comedy shows would be cheek-by-jowl in this year’s Fringe programme.  Yet, with a few notable exceptions, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Yet, thankfully, Mark Thomas’s Black and White is one such glorious exception.

Thomas is more than a stand-up circuit veteran of 35 years plus. He is also an award-winning human-rights activist, author and playwright. Yet even though Black and White is ostensibly a pandemic-influenced observation on the interdependency of humans and society, the gentle storytelling exhibited in his celebrated plays is mostly in short supply. Drawing comparison with music hall legend Max Miller – who famously let audiences choose whether the clean (white) or very risqué (blue) version of his act was delivered – Thomas identifies he’s most definitely reading from the blue book! But not in a ‘Conservative’ sense. “Any Tories in?” he enquires as he takes to the stage, before responding, “You best “f**k off then, you can still get a refund on the way out!”

What follows is a superbly observed, lightning speed, incandescent critique of UK and world politics.  Thomas’s tangible anger is mostly directed at right wingers, but not exclusively so – it’s safe to say he is no fan of Kier Stammer…  Cutting though it may be, the humour is far from hectoring.  Adopting the persona of comedy great Les Dawson, a stiletto-sharp series of one liners is delivered.  Of these, one referencing Liz Truss and sandwich spread most certainly hit the mark with the audience.  The set also veers into the fantastical, on occasion.  A thread on the ever-deteriorating pay and conditions within the public sector imagines the Queen, as a fellow public servant, joining strike action outside Buckingham Palace, resulting in her replacement by an “agency monarch”.

Whilst certainly highly scathing of our ruling classes, there remains an inherent warmth in Thomas’s material and delivery.  The way he deals with a somewhat bewildered heckler to make them part of the show is as touching as it is funny.  The inclusion of references to his own health issues to highlight healthcare inequality is simultaneously humanitarian and humorous.  Who would imagine jokes about the classed-based credentials of different forms of diabetes would have folk rolling in the aisles?  The audience even bonds in an old-fashioned sing-song, with Thomas turning music hall social historian once again to explain the societal and political background of both the tune “The boy I love is up in the gallery”, and Marie Lloyd, its original singer. 

Publicity describes Black and White as being about the “…the simple act of being in a room together and toppling international capitalism.”  Vote with your feet, head to The Stand to join the revolution, and experience probably the best 60 minutes of politically-charged humour on this year’s Fringe!

Photo by Tony Pletts

In a Fringe surprisingly lacking in political comedy, Mark Thomas provides

a welcome and scathing comedic denunciation of the ruling elites.  Deserving of nothing less than ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Mark Thomas: Black and White tickets

Mark Thomas: Black and White plays at The Stand until 28 August

Book Tickets