What would the ramblers of the 1930s who fought to open up the Peak District to everyone do to open up our cities these days, asks comedian Mark Thomas.
Mark brings his unique mixture of comedy and political activism to Sheffield in his new show, Trespass.
His publicity describes the Sheffield City Hall show as “his usual odd mix of theatre, stand up, activism, a dash of journalism and a dollop of mayhem”.
He said: “It’s about the corporate takeover of public space by private interests and what that means for how we work, live, play in those areas and how we regard our sense of identity in those places.”
As usual, Mark is acting on his concerns, not just talking about them. He said: “I’m doing some creative mischief and mayhem. The law seems to have allowed a small crack that we could put a crowbar into.
“We had a punk rock gig on the banks of the Thames with the band Hoi Polloi that was great fun to do. If you have got a high-vis jacket on, people think everything is okay.”
Mark points out that last time there were this many gated communities in London, there were riots and two Parliamentary inquiries and Queen Victoria opened the Royal parks to assuage public anger.
He said: “There used to be an adventure playground in Battersea Park, where I played as a kid. You could go there and meet other people, it didn’t matter who they were or where they were from.
“It’s been sold off by Wandsworth Council and it’s now a privately-run adventure playground that costs £18 to get in.
“All those kids will meet are those kids whose parents can afford to pay for them to go in. The parents are probably pleased they haven’t got the oiks!”
He added: “The show is looking at the whole spectrum of how cities are being sanitised and corporatised.
“Councils are now bullying and picking on people, using legal powers given in the Criminal Justice Act, to mimic the actions of corporations to cleanse the area of people who are not wanted.There are ban orders on people who shout loudly. People facing £100 on the spot fines for swearing.”
He’s been looking for a choir that will sing swear words in public to test out the ban.
The show’s not just about London, Mark promised: “We will be doing stuff in and around that will come fresh off the press on to Sheffield.
“I once took the audience off to demonstrate outside the proposed Curzon cinema, because of their failure to pay the living wage and recognise the union. Then the company gave in.”
Mark used to create comic mayhem on Channel 4 but said that’s all in the past now. “Telly’s not interested in me and I’m not interested in it. We had a great time doing it, it was a laugh, a real exploration for us and a big adventure.
“Then it stopped being an adventure and started being a day job.
“When you’re being told you can’t do stuff and you have to do budgets and you’re censored, what’s the point of doing it?
“If I’d wanted to do that I’d have got a proper job.”
Trespass is at the City Hall next Tuesday. Box office: 0114 23789789 or online at www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk