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Written and Performed by Mark Thomas
Directed by Emma Callander
October 29-November 21, 2015
In AFO’s first collaboration with 59E59 Theaters, we present award-winning UK comedian Mark Thomas as he tells the true story of how he discovered a good friend and fellow activist was actually a mole sent by Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, to spy on the comedian. Using interviews from friends, colleagues, activists and journalists, CUCKOOED is a personal and timely tale on the impact of betrayal, unearthing what it means to be spied upon by a corporation under the sanction of the state.
“Involving, inspiring, furious and funny”
“Thomas manages to bring light and humour to even the most startling revelations of deceit.”
Transferring intact from the UK where it has been presented to sold-out houses at the Traverse Theatre
as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Tricycle Theatre, The Brighton Dome, and more.
MARK THOMAS (Writer/Performer):
Mark has been performing comedy for 30 years
He has written 5 books
Curated and authored 2 art exhibitions
Won 5 awards for performing, 3 for human rights work and 1 he invented for himself
He has taken the police to court 3 times and has won twice. The third is on going
He made 6 series of the Mark Thomas Comedy Product for Channel 4
He made 3 Dispatches for Channel 4
He was commissioned to write 1 new show for the Royal Opera House
He has made 5 series of the Manifesto for Radio 4
He was a Guinness World Record holder for holding 20 protests in 24 hours
He has given evidence to Parliamentary select committees on 2 occasions
He has walked 724km around the length of the Israel Wall in the West Bank
He has been credited with changing the law on tax avoidance bringing in £1,000,000s for HMRC
He has performed in 4 continents and in 10 countries
He has performed 4 shows at the National Theatre
He has cost 1 councillor and one government minister their job
He has tried to get the government in court over the Iraq war once
He cost BNF over £1m in clean up operations after exposing irradiated pigeon shit
He was a columnist for the New Statesman magazine for 4 years though it might be 5
The 100 Acts of Minor Dissent campaigned successfully for trade union recognition for cinema workers, got a multinational to change their practices, brought 4 court cases and annoyed lots of people
How to describe his work? A mix of standup, theatre, journalism and the odd bout of performance art.
He is 52 years old and doesn’t care if it sounds pretentious
He has shares in 1 dog, owned by family
He was born in South London in 1963
EMMA CALLANDER (Director/Dramaturg): Emma is an Associate Artist of the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh and Co-Artistic Director of Theatre Uncut. Directing credits for the Traverse include Crash by Andy Duffy (Nominated for Best Play at the CATS awards 2015), The Day the Pope Emptied Croy by Martin McCormick, Mrs. Barbour’s Daughters by AJ Taudevin and The Queen of Lucky People by Iain Heggie. Other directing credits include Dalgety by David Greig & Supply by Cathy Forde (A Play, a Pie and a Pint, Oran Mor, Glasgow) Banksy: The Room in the Elephant by Tom Wainwright (Tobacco Factory Bristol, Arcola Theatre London and national tour) and the Arcadia Spectacular for Glastonbury Festival. Emma has directed Theatre Uncut’s work at the Young Vic London, Bristol Old Vic, Arches Glasgow, Latitude Festival and the Traverse Theatre winning the Fringe First Award two years running, the Herald Angel, the Spirit of the Fringe Award and shortlisted for the Amnesty International Award.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
Mark Thomas, widely known and awarded as a comedian, activist, author and humanitarian in the UK, makes his American debut this month in CUCKOOED at 59e59 Theaters.
WHAT IS CUCKOOED?
[It’s a story about] a man who we trusted implicitly and were very close to. When we found out that he was actually spying for Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer…we refused to believe it, we spent a year in denial where we were defending him and were attacking the organization that had been spied upon. And at the end of that, when we realized he had actually been spying…you find out your personal narrative is contaminated, and it’s not what you thought it was, there’s a real questioning of yourself, of your abilities, of your instincts, of your political skills, all of those things.
YOU CALL CUCKOOED A COMEDY OF BETRAYAL. WHAT IS IT LIKE RE-EXPERIENCING THAT BETRAYAL AT EACH PERFORMANCE?
It’s an interesting thing, because…the act of telling the story becomes a collective act in some ways. When this all blew up, we instinctively withdrew from each other. And actually, the process of going back and going over it all and making people talk and telling the story together has actually drawn us closer. So, there’s a very strange feeling, being onstage, because I feel closer to the people who were betrayed, they’re inside me.
YOU’RE RIGHTLY FAMOUS AS A STANDUP COMEDIAN IN THE UK, BUT SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE YOU BEGAN CREATING NARRATIVE SOLO SHOWS — THEATER PIECES RATHER THAN RAT-TAT-TAT COMEDY. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN FOR YOU AND WHY?
The title of the show was DAM BUSTERS. A dam that was being built in the Kurdish region of Turkey, and the British government was gonna support it, and there were all sorts of things wrong with the dam. And so I accidentally—this is completely true—I became the campaign director of this thing. I ran this sort of 3-year battle…. I wrote a whole show about what we had done, how far we’d come, how the experience was, and how we organized the campaign, all of that. And I toured it. That was the real first big narrative show where I tell a story. What was great was the British government and the companies involved pulled out of the dam deal two-thirds of the way through the show. And it became this kind of victory celebration. The show in a way became part of the activism, and the activism became part of the show. And I found that really exciting. Once you sort of kick open a door like that it’s very hard to shut it.
YOUR UNIQUE BRAND OF “ACTIVIST COMEDY” IS HUGELY INFLUENTIAL IN THE UK; WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR INFLUENCES?
The things that influenced me are a mixture of the things that I love – music and theatre, activists and storytellers and comics. There’s this punk band called ‘Crash’ who were an old anarchist collective—and they would make a record, and the record was like buying an argument. You’d put it on, and they would be challenging all the current beliefs and sensibilities within the punk movement…and that was just really influential, that idea that you could challenge things. One of my favorite influences was Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright, who I adored, and in fact changed my life when I was 16. I went to see a Bertolt Brecht play, and was amazed. You go into the theatre thinking one thing, and come out thinking something else.
WHO ON THE AMERICAN SCENE INSPIRES YOU?
Spaulding Gray and Eric Bogosian in the States…they were people who I looked to and thought, “Fuck, you can do that stuff, this is really exciting.” I loved watching Spaulding Gray perform, because I thought he was just a remarkable performer. Mike Moore, I really loved. I think Roger & Me was a wonderful film. And to this day, it’s just a great, great piece of work. So people like Mike Moore I think give really great insight. And you look at performers like Jon Stewart, absolute legends at what they have done.
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT PERFORMING IN NEW YORK?
Actually, you know, I credit New York as having the seeds of movements I really love…people like Bogosian, people like Spaulding Gray. Whether it is the performance art movement, whether it’s people like Penny Arcade who I adore, whether it is CBGB’S, all those things, it has an incredible history of being at the forefront of things. So it’s really exciting to come over.
YOU INTRODUCED AFO TO THE CONCEPT OF “RELAXED PERFORMANCES,” DESIGNED TO WELCOME PEOPLE WITH AN AUTISM SPECTRUM CONDITION, SENSORY AND COMMUNICATION DISORDERS, OR A LEARNING DISABILITY. CUCKOOED WILL HAVE 2 RELAXED PERFORMANCES ON NOVEMBER 7 (MATINEE) AND NOVEMBER 17 (EVENING). WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN GIVING RELAXED PERFORMANCES?
The first relaxed performance I did properly was a couple years ago, and it was because a friend of mine who has Tourette’s came to see a show, and she had a really horrible experience…. It just seemed really really horrible that we should be in an environment that is supposedly naturally liberal and actually was totally reactionary. And so, after talking to her about it, I thought, “We need to do relaxed performances.” Which is a very interesting thing, because my mate with Tourette’s would just interrupt. Suddenly she’ll just shout, “Cat sex!” And you just have to deal with that, and say, “Thank you very much.” But you can’t ignore it, you have to acknowledge it, and you have to play with it. And you have to handle it in a way that is open and honest and fun.
YOU MENTIONED YOU MIGHT LEAD A WORKSHOP HERE IN NYC. WHAT SORT OF WORKSHOP WOULD IT BE?
The stuff that I love doing in workshops is about how we create stories. Everyone’s got family stories, everyone’s got family myths and legends—and every time you tell one, there’s a skill involved in it. Whether you know it or not. You mimic other people, you look around the room, you make sure everyone else is included. There’s a pace to the story, there’s a punchline to the story. There’s different voices and all of that. These are essentially performance skills. So if you’ve ever sat in a room and told a story about your family or your friends, then you’ve got the basics to be a performer. So I like to take that idea, that you can tell a story, any story, and then edit it down, and turn that story into a solo performance piece. That’d be the kind of workshop that I’d be interested in doing.