Treasonable tomfoolery

The following article was first published in the December 2018 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

Mark Brailsford is uncharacteristically lost for the right phrase. “I know you can’t use that word. There might be a better word without swearing.” His eyes twinkle. “It’s a clusterfudge.” Our conversation has turned to Brexit, which is certain to be a key part of the satirical revue he’s directing this month. “We scattergun everyone, both sides get it from The Treason Show, but because the dominant narrative is so incompetent, we only have to cover what’s going on and we look like we’re biased. And I can’t help that, because Brexit is a disaster. Whichever way you look at it.”

Now in its 19th year, The Treason Show has become a Brighton institution, reflecting current affairs in a collection of comedy sketches and songs. In recent years, the group’s annual end-of-year show – That Was The Year That Was – has even spread beyond the city to Lewes and Shoreham-by-Sea.

Although Mark founded the show, he’s keen to emphasise the collaboration involved. He reckons there have been well over 300 contributors since the original cast of four trod the boards at Brighton’s Komedia. However, The Treason Show might easily never have happened at all. Back in 1999, Mark mentioned his work on the Radio 4 Week Ending sketch show when he met Geoffrey Perkins, then BBC Head of Comedy. The Perkins response was “That taught you two things: how not to write and how not to be funny.” Mark “loved him even more after that” and decided to drop satire in favour of playwriting. Whilst arranging for his latest play to be performed at Komedia, he was asked if he’d like to set up a topical sketch show. Despite hesitating initially, Mark decided on a three-month trial in June 2000. “After two marriages and near-bankruptcy as well, the company motto is ‘we’re still here’.”

Indeed they are – and in the final stages of assembling this year’s conclusive performances. “You would think the Christmas show, which is a ‘best bits’ show, would be easier to put together than the regular shows. It’s not. It’s actually harder. Because it’s a review of the year, it has to encompass the big stories and then marry up with our best material – and those aren’t always the same thing.” Ultimately, Mark’s aiming for “a distillation of the narrative”, he says. “There are story arcs for every year. You will see a thread of triggering moments that everybody’s reacted to throughout 2018.” And so we return to “the b-word”, as Mark puts it. “There will definitely be a reaction to Brexit stuff. A mix of people going ‘I don’t like that’ and others cheering wildly. We want it to be a unifying, cathartic experience. Making people laugh together. It’s tougher to do comedy these days.”

That Was The Year That Was 2018 is at the White Hart Hotel in Lewes on Saturday 22nd and at Horatio’s on Brighton’s Palace Pier from Thursday 27th until Monday 31st.