Comic to tell his story
OPERA has a habit of taking on the big subjects — love, death, sex, betrayal — and sploshing the emotions around like custard pies in a Buster Keaton movie.
And comic Mark Thomas has discovered a newfound respect for its unsubtle melodrama since his family was plunged into an emotional whirlwind of its own.
His dad, Colin Thomas, who has long been the butt of Mark's comedy and ire in his stand-up shows, was diagnosed with a vicious condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, which has since robbed him of his sight, his mobility and his memory.
While Mark is quick to point out that his father's condition hasn't erased years of reined-in animosity, it has led to a stand-off in some ways.
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"It is very hard for him and for my mum, who cares for him," he says.
"But his illness hasn't changed everything.
"We are a very robust family. I have always said horrible things about my dad on stage and he has always said horrible things about me.
"To give you an idea of the way we are, I said to my mum the other day, 'Dad was only given five years to live when he was diagnosed and here he is ten years later'.
She said, 'Yes, I'm obviously looking after him far too well'."
Mark's new show, Bravo Figaro!, about fathers and sons, rivalries, music and class war, stops by at Pontardawe Arts Centre tonight, and there is a sense that here is Mark's bete noir, laid low like a hibernating bear, but still looming large in his life.
The comic explains why opera was so often a flashpoint for father and son.
"I detested opera. I just thought everything about it was embarrassing and the fact that my dad, this fiercely working-class builder, used to listen to it was terrible.
"As a teenager working on my dad's building sites, I used to cringe when he blasted opera out to the workers.
"I thought it was the worst kind of affectation, in a very Mike Leigh way.
"Mike Leigh really captures people with aspirations to be something they are not — to improve themselves — but they always look completely ridiculous doing it."
Nonetheless, Bravo Figaro! explains how Mark went from animosity towards his dad to staging an opera for him in his Bournemouth bungalow, with singers from the Royal Opera House.
"The performance went well and I think he enjoyed it. I think he was there with us for a while," he says.
"When my dad became ill I wanted to be able to meet him on that ground so I did start to listen and I have been to lots of productions now.
"And now I think that at its best opera can be incredibly powerful.
"For instance I have seen an opera based on a TV interview between Francis Bacon and Melvyn Bragg where Francis ends up getting Melvyn very drunk.
"The acting was amazing.
"And John Adams and Alice Goodman's
Nixon in China is as far away from wobbly wigs and big-bosomed ladies as it is possible to be.
"I saw the Royal Opera House production of Salome which I found awe-inspiring.
"The way it was staged, set in a tiled basement fitted with urinals, where John the Baptist is being tortured.
"And on the floor above there is a decadent dinner party going on.
"All you see of the scene above are the chair legs and the feet of the guests, but you know there is this civilised scene unfolding while torture is going on. It was very powerful."