Mark Thomas decided to walk the length of the Israeli Separation Barrier, and treat it as a rambling tour, andtakes tot he stage to recount his experiences.
How did you come to do this final run of Walking the Wall?
Because I really liked doing the show and they asked me to come back, basically. We had done a month there last year and it seemed a good way to finish the show in the UK.
What prompted the initial idea for the show?
Curiosity and devilment. It is important to do something that is engaging and interesting, because people come out and they are paying fro a show. I want to do something that makes me look at things in a new way, my shows tend to be that I go off and do unusual things and then come back and tell the stories about them.
Did you ever feel that curiosity had gotten the better of you?
Yeah, it was eight and a half weeks out there. We got detained by the army, we got stoned by Palestinian kids, we got tear gassed. But we also spoke to people with amazing hospitality, saw amazing sights and walked in areas that were so beautiful. But there were moments when you think “I shouldn’t have done this.”
Was it difficult to explain to people the point of your ramble?
People just didn’t understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. To walk the length of the wall and treat it as a ramble. And right from the beginning I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do in time. All sorts of things worry you, getting a corn or bunion, and chaffing is always a worry. Having to finish the walk early because of something like that terrified me.
Did it affect you in ways you weren’t expecting?
In every way, the West Bank is not a desert it is beautiful and amazing. Two things I didn’t expect were I didn’t expect the occupation to be this vicious, as brutal and relentless, and humiliating and vile as it is. Equally, I didn’t expect to find these amazing Israeli activists. All sorts of things, the complexity of human society is always intriguing.
Did you get surprised by people’s input intot he People’s manifesto show?
All the time, I just got back from the show in Glasgow last night. I adore the fact that people come up with ideas and we get to muck about with them and play with them and the audience join in. There is a sense of not knowing what you are going to get, which is exciting as a performer.
Are there pronounced regional differences?
All the time, especially when compared to London. Scotland has no tuition fees, you don’t pay for prescription charges, and they take care of the elderly, which puts the rest of the UK to shame. It shows people care, England has allowed this to slip away. There are differences, in various ways, in the way people see things. And there is only so many times you can hear about the tube or the streets being too crowded.
Do you feel an obligation to change things?
There are very clear things that you can point to and say ‘that changed’, such as the law on Tax Avoidance for People with ‘public art’. I believe that you can change things, there is a paradox though. People need to realise that we have more power than you think but if you want to change something then it takes work.
The Iraq war, morally, it was a massive error on Blair’s part, and when you get events like that you always hope that you are going to stop it but you should always have the moral impetus to at least try. You don’t do campaigns because you are going to win, you do it because you think it is right, morally and intellectually. The anti-war movement won the debates but the outcome is hugely frustrating and depressing.
I think there are always unforeseen consequences to these things. The Iraq war set down a benchmark for a new British Prime Minister who wants to engage in, or is on the verge of entering in to, a conflict. They will think long and hard about it in the future.
Are you positive about the future?
No, I don’t feel positive about global issues, there is this notion that as time goes on things naturally get better and I don’t hold to that. I think things are going to get worse in the short term. But you always remain optimistic in human beings’ ability the change things for the better. Whether that will be born out or not, I have no idea.
Do you see any change in people’s attitudes? More and more people becoming activists…
More and more people are really pissed off and annoyed about unfairness in a basic fashion, bankers’ bonuses, the rich not paying their fair share of tax, off shore tax havens that shouldn’t not exist. There is this inherent feeling that fairness is important.
Did your parents have any influence on your chosen career path?
My mum was a midwife and my dad was a builder and the only thing they influenced me was making sure I didn’t go in to them. But they imbued me with a work ethic, and with a stubbornness which is a vital thing,
Mark Thomas: Walking The Wall is on at the Tricycle Theatre until Saturday Jan 28. 7.45pm
Station: Kilburn underground