Review: The Red Shed

The Traverse until August 29th
3 Stars (3 / 5)


Mark Thomas conducts the audience with expert timing and finesse, taking us on a nostalgia trip to the origins of two and a half decades of political activism.

Following a three-pronged quest to locate the first coal mine where he attended a protest (undertaken by Thomas in preparation for the show) the piece centres around The Red Shed. It’s a pub in Wakefield where left-wing dissidents of all stokes have congregated to organise direct action and resistance against capitalism for decades. It expounds The Red Shed’s place as part of a larger historical struggle of the working class against against their evil capitalist overlords and their police-state defenders. The belief that the people have had that they can really make a difference and make their lives better by taking action on behalf of their class interests. A deep insight into the motivation of the radical leftists: they are part of a movement, a tradition of fighting for freedom and justice, part of something bigger than themselves.

The Red Shed is Very Red. Thomas has a well credentialed history of making edgy and thought-provoking documentaries exposing the corruption of government, big business, and the abuse of state power. This show is far more left wing that its’ televised predecessors. It’s well structured and diverse in modes of presentation, but its relies much too much on emotion, romanticism and nostalgia – ultimately singing to the choir. It is likely to frustrate anyone with a dissenting outlook for a lack of balance, assuming its own struggle to be the correct – if not only – one. This is evidenced by the consensus among the personalities it features – there is no dissident voice. (Even Ayn Rand’s novels included socialists who made their case for socialism.) There is no counter-exposé of union violence, or critical examination of the arguments for any views contrary to those advocated by the piece, for example. The term “Leninist-Marxist” is worn as a badge of pride by one of Thomas’ comrades, with no question of the fact that Lenin’s policies led to famine and the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Russians during his reign.