Stand-up comedy is not what I normally go to see at my local theatre, but when I saw that Mark Steel was coming to do a show it was a no-brainer. This is a comedian who occasionally appears on well-known comedy panel shows on the TV, such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Have I Got News For You, but not so often that I’ve become weary of seeing his face. For me, he’s best known for the weekly column he writes for The Independent newspaper; invariably his opinion with a socialist slant on whatever grabs his attention that week. Recently, of course, it’s been the death of Margaret Thatcher and the funeral of same. Looking past the overblown sentimentality of most of the media coverage we’ve been force-fed, Mark has that rare knack of seeing the truth and absurdity in our society and even making us laugh at it.
Mark’s latest tour, “Mark Steel’s In Town”, is a two month long trip around 18 towns of England, but is only the most recent stint in a project that has been ongoing since 2009, when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. So far, Mark has included nearly 50 towns on his itinerary; from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands to Penzance in West Cornwall; from Merthyr Tydfil to Norwich; from Gateshead to Ottery St. Mary. Each show is centred around the town he’s currently in, but also gives hilarious insights into life in other parts of the land. Each town is celebrated for its history, landmarks, notoriety, citizens, quirks and local pride.
Last night in Barnstaple, Mark came prepared with research he has gathered from Twitter, the local newspaper, books, online sources and interactions with the locals on the day of the show. The audience was also encouraged to participate and give their perspectives on life in the town. Just as a snapshot, Barnstaple’s particular points of interest included househunting with The Jackson Five and an amorous encounter with an ambulance!
Mark is a brilliant and extremely funny storyteller, with a large repertoire of regional accents, among them Devon, The Black Country, Welsh, Geordie, Scouse, Manc, Scottish, Yorkshire, Home Counties and his native Kent.
With just the right amount of swearing and profanity and even a snippet of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, this was two and a half hours of hilarious show which I would recommend to anyone with an open mind and a conscience.