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Review: England & Son at Holden Street Theatre - ADL Fringe

Review by Kate Gaul


This production comes to Adelaide Fringe via the Holden St Edinburgh Fringe Award 2023. Written by Ed Edwards, author of the 2018 play “The Political History of Smack and Crack”, “England & Son” is a collaboration with performer Mark Thomas and draws on first-hand experiences of violence, drugs, and incarceration. We are taken to some very, dark places. Domestic abuse, genocide, the brutality of toxic masculinity and corrosive horror.  Children are casually tossed around like rubbish, entirely subject to the whims of their sadistic government captors. Woven between all this is the weft of love, friendship, tenderness and genuine good. We’re invited to empathise, not pity. It is bleak, darkly funny, and a chilling account of inter-generational male brutality and abuse. The work uses colonialism as a further lens by interpolating the violence of British soldiers in Malaya as legitimate state sanctioned atrocities which are then brought into the returning soldiers’ family homes.  The cycle continues. The class divide widens between the haves and have-nots and its wider political context, in the era of Maggie Thatcher, gives the play a grounded and powerful edge.  As a monologue about abuse, diminishing hopes and the betrayal of a generation, “England & Son” packs a punch.


Cressida Brown is the director.  She is known as an artist who believes “traditional theatre is for wimps”.  This play and performer are a perfect match!  She and Mark Thomas chose to wisely work in an open space with the audience in the round. The audience really are part of this event. The bare stage in the Studio space at Holden Street Theatres with highly effective and tightly controlled lighting plot and evocative soundscape support Thomas to create a detailed and vivid image of a boy’s unfolding world.  


Mark Thomas starts the show with a howl of pain in a foetal position, he’s justwoken up in a bin round the back of Wetherspoons realising you were about to meet your fate in the crusher of a bin lorry. It’s a compelling start to this twisted coming of age story. The performance is energetic, explosive, and fast paced. This isn’t a genre busting work and nor is the message particularly new. The production ends abruptly and we are sent out into our much safer worlds.  That is a peculiar sensation. The delight (if that’s a word that can be used to describe such a bleak world) is in watching Mark Thomas relish the performance and presence of an audience. Critically it does feel as if we are being performed “at” rather than invited into an intimate exchange between humans which can be one of the delights of the monologue. It’s a full-on blokey event. It is an urgent cry for change. This is a solid play and performance.  Fringe is full of solo performance, and this is another notch in the belt for those theatrical adventurers who are looking beyond comedy and music to sample the rich array of more serious theatre offerings in Adelaide this year.


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