Adelaide Fringe: England & Son

Adelaide Fringe: England & Son

A harsh spotlight and blood-curdling cry jolted me out of any prior expectations with Mark Thomas’ one-man rendition of ‘England & Son,’ written by Ed Edwards and Directed by Cressida Brown.

As remarked by Mark Thomas during an interview with Editor David Chatterdon in association with the British Theatre Guide, England & Son is a story about a kid who’s growing up with the violence of empire and family, and about someone who slips through the cracks. It’s about addiction, it’s about violence, it’s about empire, and it’s full-on,” and full-on it was.

Its themes were raw and gave those of us uninformed on the matter a solid insight into working-class England during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, casting light on disaster capitalism, stolen youth and wealth and the desperation of a child who wants to be accepted by his father.

Mark Thomas brought us into this world, a world filled with characters based on Mark’s childhood and Ed Edwards’s experience in gaol; the thought of this is almost unimaginable by the end. Audible gasps could be heard from the audience and myself as Mark burst into our peripherals, seemingly out of nowhere. His cry broke the silence of an eagerly waiting crowd so suddenly that I and others had half jumped out of our seats, startled by his sheer power and emotion.

His 37 years of experience in the performing arts became apparent immediately as I pondered the possibility that only one man could deliver such a complex story. Still, in the case of Mark Thomas, it was executed flawlessly. Mark constantly engaged personally with individual audience members, as if, and if so intended, successfully pulling them into the scene. As I was one of them, I saw the look in his eye that so distinguishably separates raw talent from script recitation, which told me this is ‘real, and I am there.’

The struggles I encountered were so emotionally drawing that Mark’s audience would shake their heads in astonishment on several occasions and were near to bringing a tear to my eye.

Mark’s audible engagement with individual audience members is often underutilised in live theatre, as it evidently built on the already established immersion that reached even the farthest of his audience.

This was most notable when Mark intentionally broke character, humorously criticising the audience for not laughing after a cheesy joke was presented. He deflected it so well back to the story that if it weren’t for the change of context, one wouldn’t have even noticed, even better presenting his skill in the arts.

This was aided more so by the Holden Street Theatre, which was the perfect venue for this piece as it was small enough that Mark’s voice could carry throughout its space but also allowed members of the audience their own space to enjoy the play.

The stage was set simply by Mark. Bearing no props or design of any form, one would be surprised by the clarity of the locations in which this exhilarating performance was set. It was, however, emphasised by a brilliant soundscape and critically timed strobe-lighting effects that ideally fit the surreal experiences lived by each character.

The wardrobe was plain, a polo and tracksuit pants, but in retrospect, it fits well with the attitudes and lives of most of Mark’s personifications, stereotypical of working-class England.

To conclude, ‘England and Son’ was an exhilarating performance, depicting a working-class boy’s life, growth, and struggles. Mark gave a brilliant, enigmatic performance, which I would be thrilled to have the opportunity of viewing again. Highly recommended to all, although the reasonably persistent explicit language may not be suitable for younger viewers.

The England & Son runs through to the 17th of March.

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

Spread the word on your favourite platform!