Mark Thomas' political satire about the MPs expenses scandal is passionate and mischievously inspiredIt might be overstating the case to say that the Daily Telegraph has changed the face of British comedy this summer, but if you want an indication of just how much the MPs’ expenses scandal is still exercising the minds of the public, and forcing comics to respond in kind, you need only watch Mark Thomas in action.
Thomas is our foremost political comedian. I would never have marked him down as a Telegraph reader, but a good percentage of his latest show owes everything to the revelations this paper published earlier in the year. And I’m guessing the overall nature of the show has been altered by them too. The title – “It’s the Stupid Economy” – suggests Thomas is interested in the ways that Britain might be able to dig itself out of its recessionary quagmire. Yet because it is structured round the specific concerns of any given audience on any given night, it has – over the past few months – evidently rooted itself in the still-smouldering soil of popular outrage.
The format is simple. Upon arrival, every audience-member is invited to jot down one suggestion that would make Britain a better place. Thomas sifts the responses, improvises a commentary on the most interesting ones, and then, having woven them into broader observations about what the rest of the UK thinks, puts the top 10 suggestions to the vote. The specific aim in Edinburgh has been to arrive at a range of proposals that a group of Scottish MPs can debate, with a view to securing one new piece of legislation; but with this show, it’s not so much the fanciful destination as the free-ranging intellectual journey that matters.
On the night I catch him at the Stand (with neat irony, given his brushes with the law, Thomas is performing in what’s usually the local police social club), one of the first proposals is for MPs to be forced to live in dormitories. Thomas has a problem with that: “If you put them in the same room, they will breed.”
The public’s ideas have been witty and imaginative, he reveals: Jacqui Smith should have her own porn channel (thereby keeping her husband entertained, and the public in pocket); the return of MPs’ assets, forcibly removed at the start of their time in office, should be index-linked to their performance; and those MPs’ homes furnished with expenses should have public open-days – “We paid for it, we should be able to enjoy it.”
Thomas regaled the crowd with the saga of MP Margaret Moran’s abducted (and finally decapitated) bay-tree; his one-off gig in the squatted “home” of husband and wife MPs Alan and Ann Keen; and the photo of the café, encountered on his travels, which bore the joyous sign in its front-window: “Only two MPs allowed in at any time.”
I’ve never seen him so fast-paced, so brimful of passionate invective and so mischievously inspired. There was other material in the mix too – the ongoing campaign to rename Windsor “Lower Slough” was especially entertaining – but if the show was a triumph, it was our MPs ire-inducing foibles, as exclusively revealed in this paper, what won it.
It’s the Stupid Economy transfers to the Tricycle Theatre, London in September.