Mark Thomas: 100 Minor Acts of Dissent reviewed by Patrick McGuckin

This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.

Those, who like me, had got their ‘Marks’ mixed up and expected some gentle ribbing of our town from comedian Mark Steel, would have been shocked at the potty mouthed exclamations from comic activist Mark Thomas. There were plenty of ‘F’ and ‘C’ words in this performance. However the genteel Ilkley folk seemed to forgive him, perhaps because much of what he said made sense.

Thomas’ first understanding that comedy could shine a light on serious injustices came when his father explained apartheid to him by way of a Dave Allen sketch. Thomas later went on to be a (not very good by his own admission) scriptwriter for Dave Allen. This was the first time that Thomas’ father accepted his son had a proper job.

Mark Thomas had his arms folded when he first took to the Kings Hall stage, but he soon relaxed into his routine and broke the evening into three parts.

He first talked about his book Manifesto in which he asked people for policies that he could then campaign on. These included amusing policies such as “no cows to be thrown off the bridges of Norwich”, “Criminal law should be replaced by only two offences, i.e. being ‘Out of Order’ and being ‘Bang Out of Order’. They also included things that are now, under Jeremy Corbyn, being seriously talked about, for example, the proposition that the Prime Minister’s Question Time should consist of queries by members of the public, and that there should be a maximum wage. The latter has recently been described by the new shadow Treasury spokesman as “an interesting idea”. Thomas acknowledged that some of the Ilkley audience would be on more than the maximum proposed ‘ten times average wage’, approximately £250k, “But you can F@## Off” he told them.

In the second part of the show he described his involvement in the arms industry. He, along with friends and other activists, set up fake companies so they could get into trade fairs. They went to a conference, took photos of arms being illegally traded and helpfully provided the police with the relevant legislation which was being violated.

Thomas then went on to talk about his current book 100 Acts of Minor Dissent. He was set the task of committing 100 such acts over a year. If he failed he would have to donate £1000 to UKIP as a forfeit.

Thomas asked audience members to shout out numbers and then flicked through his book to tell the tale. For example number 11; he had to have his photo taken with a police officer every day of the year. He found 18% of officers got a bit ‘arsey’ – so made a calendar of those who did. Number 69 involved protesting at the licensing of buskers in Camden by setting up the Citizens Kazoo Orchestra.

By creating an event he and his team create an intervention that gains publicity and in some cases leads to change. At the end of his set he said “Thanks for coming along, nice to be back and, er yes”; so a little less potty mouthed than at the start!

Patrick McGuckin has lived in Ilkley for 18 years and attended Ilkley Literature Festival for most of those years. Since attending the Review Writing Workshop a few years ago on a whi his has regularly reviewed events for the Festival. Patrick also reviews performances at Ilkley Playhouse for Ilkley Gazette.