Since writing yesterday’s post, I’ve discovered that British Sea Power’s debut album was called “The Decline of British Sea Power”, a title so magnificent that it leaves me wordless with joy. What chutzpah! What brilliance! I have no idea what the music’s like, but, my god, I love the title!
I loved the title of another show I saw a couple of years ago at Latitude, as well. (Did you see what I did there? Links, I got ’em! Oh, Radio 4 has nothing on me.) The show was by Mark Thomas, husband of the brilliant Jenny Landreth, and was entitled ‘Bravo Figaro’. It was about his father. I went to see it with Rachel largely because we both like Mark Thomas and the show sounded interesting, and it was a drizzly day, so lurking in the Theatre Tent seemed like a good idea. The Theatre Tent that year had a big open space in front of the stage covered with carpet on which you could sit. As the ground was wet the carpet was damp too, but the organisers of Latitude thoughtfully provide a number of large pleather-covered floor cushions on which one can lounge out of the wet. Rachel and I managed to snag a couple of these and drag them right down to the front where we were all but nose-to-nose with the estimable Mr Thomas.
(I have no idea why the tent was so relatively empty. The next year Mark Thomas brought his new show to Latitude and I failed to see it because the queue to get into the Theatre Tent for it stretched back for about half a mile, giving me clearly no chance of getting in. Annoyingly, I’d actually been in the Theatre Tent* beforehand seeing the previous show, which was an RSC production which turned out to be shockingly poor and which I hadn’t been that bothered about. And for that I missed Mark Thomas 😕. But that’s Latitude for you – a smorgasbrod of largely untried turns, and you never know what’s under the parsley. *Why didn’t I just stay in the Theatre Tent? Because they chuck the entire audience out after each act, that’s why. It’s the only arena where they do that. No, I don’t know why either.)
So, Bravo Figaro, Mark Thomas’ show about his father, a violent, bullying, uneducated South London builder and autodidact who acquired a great knowledge and love of opera entirely through self-education. Mark Thomas himself has said that it’s about his father, himself, love, death and opera, and it was born after his father developed an incurable and terminal neurological disorder. You can read about it here. It’s the story of his dad, his relationship with his dad, his family, and how he brought a number of singers from the Royal Opera House to his father and mother’s seaside bungalow to perform a selection of his father’s favourite arias. It’s brilliantly conceived and written and was brilliantly performed, and it richly deserves the awards it won.
I was so taken with it that I took Ali and Mac and my other cousin Hilary to see it when Mark Thomas brought it to the Tricycle in Kilburn, and it was just as good, but there was one omission. At the end of the show when I saw it at Latitude, when he was talking about why he wanted to bring three world-class singers to sing for his dying father, Mark Thomas said “All the real goodbyes are messy, and I just wanted a clean one”. My own father died, many years ago, of an incurable neurological disease, and that sentence rang so much with me. It seemed to sum up all the complexities of love when it’s inevitably mixed with other emotions, and of saying goodbye to someone who has almost ceased to embody anything which might once have made them them, but whom you still love. Of all the things he said in the show, that was the one which spoke to me.