Political activist and comedian Mark Thomas brings to Brighton the extraordinary tale of the day he brought opera to his ailing father’s bungalow in Bournemouth.
Bravo Figaro is at the Brighton Dome on October 8-9.
“My dad was an old-fashioned Biblical patriarch. He was always like he had just finished cleaving someone. He was a self-employed builder, and he employed me. He was well-known in the area in South London, and people would ask him for everything from cleaning gutters to building a new house. He was great. My dad used to make toys for us as kids. I never knew until I was 13. It never occurred to me. He was a really astonishing craftsperson, but he was also an absolute b*stard. I think it is a generational thing. His generation never read any books about parenting; I think our generation has read too many. He was very much ‘my house, my rules!’
“But he used to listen to opera. He used to have it playing on the building site. As an adult he found opera and he was like a zealot. His house was full of the stuff, and I hated it on principle. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to understand it. Anything he liked, I disliked, and I was a punk!
“But then he developed this illness called PSP (Supranuclear Palsy). It’s often misdiagnosed as MS. It’s progressive, it’s on-going and it is incurable. It’s a destruction or a weakening of the muscles. He can’t walk. He shakes. He is going blind. He can’t speak properly. He has got dementia. There are mood swings.
“When he developed the dementia, it was like he was still there, but not there. There is a really profound sense of loss. We talked about it: it’s dad, but it is not dad.
“And as we experienced this loss from this incredibly physical and domineering man to this weak, sometimes confused man, I found myself starting to listen to opera. I didn’t realise at the time that I was reaching out to him. I just started buying this stuff and wondering what was going on. It was very strange…”
But it was the start of a process which culminated late last year in Mark bringing opera – in the shape of pianist, tenor and soprano – to his dad’s back room.
“It was utterly amazing.”
Catch Mark’s show to find out exactly what happened.
Photo courtesy of Idil Sukan Draw HQ