“It’s the story of a close friend of mine in the arms trade movement, and how he turned out to be spying on behalf of BAE Systems, the world’s largest arms manufacturer. It’s a true story, and I interview friends from the time. We film those interviews and we play them in the show.”
It’s not how most comedy acts at the Drill Hall describe their show, but then again, this is Mark Thomas. Several years of performing – on Channel 4’s Mark Thomas Comedy Project, BBC Radio 4’s Mark Thomas: The Manifesto, five books, documentaries for Channel 4 Dispatches, and countless tours around the country – have shaped him and his unique form of political comedy.
His latest theatre show, Cuckooed, is coming to the Drill Hall on Thursday. It is, as he says, a story about the arms trade, which he’s been campaigning against for several years – mostly looking at BAE Systems, the UK-based arms manufacturer that leads firearms trading across the world.
They’ve been on Mark’s watchlist for a while, but he says this show is about one particular incident: “BAE Systems have admitted in court to spying on the campaign against the arms trade.
“I have a copy on my computer of the consent order, which BAE Systems signed, which says it’s a legal undertaking for them not to spy on the campaign against the arms trade in the future.
“So, Britain’s largest arms manufacturer has not only admitted to spying, but they’ve actually given a promise not to do it again to a group of Quakers and Guardian readers.”
Yet it’s not all sitting at computers to write his shows – months of research go into each one. “Five shows ago, I did a show called ‘Walking The Wall’, which was walking the length of the Israeli barrier in the West Bank,” Mark explains.
“I spent three months walking the wall, so that’s a lot of time in research. Add another nine months to write the book and get the show together – it’s a good year in preparing it.
“With ‘The Manifesto’, that was just a good idea, so ‘let’s do this and ask people what they want’. But then, we did lots of research in terms of interviewing academics, so I suppose there’s just three months of work talking to people.
“Quite a lot of research is the short answer.”
Cuckooed is an interesting development on one of his earlier books, As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela. Published in 2006, it dealt with the murky world of the loophole-loving arms trade.
He admits, though, that not a lot has changed since he wrote it: “It’s just business as usual, except that BAE Systems have moved a lot offshore. They’ve also admitted to bribery in a number of countries and have opted for a pay-out deal.”
Unsurprisingly, he’s anxious to emphasise that what he does is not in any way stand-up comedy. “If you want to watch stand-up, there’s plenty of places to go for very good stand-up,” he says.
“My shows are a crossover between stand-up and theatre. If you watch Dave more than three times a week, don’t come. I’m serious.”
What effect would does he then expect that to have on the audience? “If people come to my show, are they going to leave becoming card-carrying members of some Marxist organisation, who are not only prepared to fight for revolutionary change but also know how to strip down an AK-47 during the course of a show? No, that’s not going to happen.
“I want people to come to the show and see something they wouldn’t have thought they wanted to see. I love that feeling that people can leave engaged and people can have their minds changed and they can think and ponder about something.
“The show’s asking big questions of people. It’s about trust and communication and it’s actually about spying and how we control it, and to what level people are going to be engaged in it.
“Hopefully, people will leave asking a few more questions and maybe taking a few more actions.”
Cuckooed will come to Lincoln’s Drill Hall on Thursday 23 October at 8pm.Tweet