England & Son

England & Son
Adelaide Fringe – The Studio, Holden Street Theatres. Presented by Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award ’23 in association with HOME Manchester and Tin Cat Entertainment. 16 February to 17 March 2024

An eight-year-old boy loves working with his dad, taking down old buildings – that’s the gentle trundling start of this turbulent story of one man’s life, and the people and politics that shaped him.

This one-man play was written for performer, comedian, journalist, and activist Mark Thomas, by playwright Ed Edwards – both multi-award winning across a broad spectrum of activities. England & Son is a menacing mix of characters from Mark’s childhood and Ed’s lived experience in jail. This production is supported by a grant from Holden Street Theatres to bring outstanding theatre from Adelaide’s sibling Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, where it won a Scotsman Fringe First award.

The show belongs to Thomas, who is tremendous as every character in his stories. He effortlessly brings distinct physicality to each of them, representing their age, stature, gender, or assumed position in society. And the audience can’t look away. They dare not.

It’s ferocious – both play and performer. Thomas not only engages his audience in-the-round by looking every one of them in their eyes, but sits down next to a few of them, converses as if they’re the only one in the room, and often not in a friendly way: intimacy and intimidation.

Lighting from Richard Williamson adds another dimension to the mood – colour followed by darkness bring warmth then uncertainty; Michael John-McCarthy’s sound design is restrained and is more threatening because of that.

But the often-harrowing narrative and threatening characters remain relatable, and the audience’s discomfort is a major reason why this is essential theatre. It looks at global and local political decisions, crashes them down onto the ordinary men and women who must deliver on them – and then leaves the remaining pieces of humanity scattered around the stage. It’s heart-breaking, incendiary, and brilliant.

Mark Wickett

Photographer: Alex Brenner

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