England & Son

England and Son Adelaide Fringe Holden Street 2024

Adelaide Fringe. The Studio, Holden Street Theatres. 17 Feb 2024


England & Son finishes abruptly. The auditorium is plunged into inky blackness with a single ghostly green exit light our only link to what might be next. The audience momentarily and collectively holds its breath. What’s happened? What’s next? And then the lights snap, and the sole actor (Mark Thomas) is re-revealed. He takes his bows to enthusiastic applause and whistling and leaves the auditorium quickly not to be seen again. Refreshingly, there is no speech to an adoring crowd along the lines of: thanks for coming, if you enjoyed it tell your friends, and if you didn’t then tell ‘em you saw something else. None of that. The spell is not broken.


Mark Thomas is spent. He’s given his all in an enthralling performance that cuts close to the bone and the issues and emotions it exposes need to be considered. Left to our private thoughts, we quietly leave the auditorium, and ponder further, knowing we have experienced something special.


The action of England & Son follows key events in the life of a young boy (surname England, and this becomes increasingly significant as the narrative unfolds) as he grows up in an anarchistic household exposed to petty crime, drug taking, domestic violence and graphic stories about his own father’s experiences in colonial Malaysia at the time the country was being exploited (looted?) by England (the country). These influences on the boy’s formative years inevitably must leave a mark, scars even, and predictably, but sadly, he spirals into his own lawless adult life with periods spent in and out of youth detention centres, a caring foster family, and ultimately into adult prison following a tragic event.


It all sounds grim, and the fundamental story is, but England & Son is told with stark humour and performed with immense skill, empathy, and drama. Mark Thomas is an experienced performer of many years, and he is also a writer and a comic. He brings this depth of experience to a bare stage in the Studio space at Holden Street Theatres and uses a highly effective and tightly controlled lighting plot and evocative soundscape to help him create a detailed and vivid mental image of the boy’s unfolding world. Thomas understands the power of purposeful movement on stage, gesture, and body attitude, how to use space and shadow, and how to personally engage individual audience members almost making them believe they are alone, and this is a private performance just for them. It’s a rare gift. The acoustics of the Studio are however uncompromising, especially when the stage is empty, and so when Thomas turns away from the audience and briefly speaks to the upstage wall, there are brief moments when clarity is lost. But even though he is not looking at the audience, he still has them in his hand.


Like much good writing, the narrative of England & Son can be appreciated at a number of levels. At its simplest, it can be appreciated as a shocking, sad, and at times humorous, story about the fall-out and tragic human consequences of growing up in a relentlessly underprivileged household. One can ponder issues such as the extent to which we are masters of our own fate: is the die cast, or with sufficient will and strength of character, is anything is possible? At a deeper level, the unfolding of young master England’s life is an ugly metaphor for how colonial powers like England have plundered and subjugated less developed countries. If it’s OK for a country to do that at a macro political and geographical level, why is it not OK for a mere pawn like young master England to grab what he can from those who are better off.


It's much food for thought, and it’s the stuff of compelling theatre. England & Son is a triumph.


Kym Clayton


When: 17 Feb to 17 Mar

Where: The Studio, Holden Street Theatres

Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au