City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Mark Thomas; The Red Shed, Traverse Theatre, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 14 August 2016

05 Mark Thomas in The Red Shed. Photo by Sally Jubb-ed.jpg
Show details
Traverse Theatre
Lakin McCarthy in association with West Yorkshire Playhouse
Running time: 
Mark Thomas (writer) Joe Douglas (director), Kate Bonney (lighting and set designer) Michael John McCarthy (sound designer) designer), Michael John McCarthy
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas’ ‘The Red Shed’ is subtitled ‘a topical tale of the miners’ strike’. It does, however, feature a red shed. Very prominently.

Thomas takes us back to 1985 and the end of the miners’ strike, when hundreds of miners were, in a number of cases at least, played back to their collieries by colliery brass bands.

Remembering the day, Thomas believes he heard children outside their primary school sing to the passing miners. Determined to prove this is no trick of memory, he sets out to establish the truth.

Around this search for validation, Thomas weaves a verbal tapestry as richly illustrated as any union banner, peopled with characters from his and the industrial north of England’s history.

Using the verbal testimony of others as well as his own narration, Thomas takes us on a journey into the recent past and back to a present in which unionisation is having to rebuild its bases.

Meanwhile, of course, there already is one, although Thomas is wise enough not to make this explicit.

The Red Shed, Wakefield’s Labour Club building, a forty seven foot long wooden construction, is characterised by its Secretary as ‘the home of new music, of environmental politics, of good real ale and CAMRA, the local TUC, trade unions and even the Labour Party.’

‘The Red Shed’ is a wander round not only a building but also a series of individual experiences, collective action and a way of life continuously challenged by ‘events, dear boy, events’.

Thomas does, eventually, have his recollection validated, but only after an extensive search that is also an attempt to recover more than the personal past, involving both his own friends, the Labour movement and the fast food industry.

Thomas is always watchable and his delivery and narrative here is as slick and funny as ever, but despite his best efforts, we are left wondering, as current politics elides seamlessly from tragedy into high farce, whether the collective idealism that brought the real Red Shed into being fifty years ago will survive long enough to mark its centenary.

Times: 6-28 August (not 8, 15, 22), times vary.