Mark Thomas, comedy veteran and activist, has arranged a unique Fringe benefit at New Town Theatre tonight that aids the two legal charities supporting the victims of Grenfell Tower, marking a two month anniversary of the incident.
The Fountain spoke with Mark about the organisations that will receive every penny that is spent on this stellar-billed event, which includes the likes of Sara Pascoe and Stephen K Amos, and the work that he is doing back in London to support the victims of this atrocity.
TF: Bringing to Book is a benefit you’ve organised for the Fringe for Tuesday 15th August. Can you tell us more about this benefit Mark?
Well the benefit is a fundraiser for two of the legal charities supporting families, survivors, and families of victims and residents around Grenfell, after Grenfell Tower fire, and that’s INQUEST and North Kensington Law Centre. Now these are absolutely committed to getting proper legal help to the poorest people in the Burgh and that has been their remit for years. So they are working at the sharp end of this. For us, it was very important that there were no question marks over where this money is going to. Eighteen million, over eighteen million has been raised and a really small amount of that has gone out. There is a huge question mark over accountability, over where the money has gone, and who it is going to go to. For us it was very important that there was complete transparency on this, which is every penny on the door goes to those groups.
TF: You have quite a stellar bill of performers included there? How did this come about?
I’ve been around long enough to have a few famous people. It’s an amazing bill. I mean when you’ve got Milton Jones and Sara Pascoe on a bill that’s a pretty amazing line-up but we’ve got Josie Long and Shazia Mirza, who are outstanding performers. We have Fred MacAulay and Jo Caulfield who are joining us to compere. My old mate Attila the Stockbroker, I went to school with him, is an old time ranting poet, who was there with John Cooper Clarke and the likes, and Attila is a remarkable performer. Some of the younger, newer comics as well, people like Archie Maddocks and Bilal Zafar who are really immense, incredibly talented. For us it was really important to have a bill that was not just about the stellar great, which it is (I mean Stephen K Amos is an amazing person to be performing on site) but we wanted to get some of the newer folk along as well.
TF: The Grenfell Tower Fire has been such a symbolic incident that has hit home the widening in class gap since the Tories have been in Number 10. How do you think this incident it feeds into this issue?
Greenfell is a national screaming wound. We have let people burn to death because of the decline of care towards the working class and social housing in London. That is an outrage, that the state abdicated its role to care. Every single part of this is an outrage. Whether it is the fact that the fire brigade couldn’t get their equipment near enough because of bollards, or the fact that they had put in illegal cladding, the fact that they had privatised out the fire safety services, whether it’s the fact that this is an area that’s got a council tax rebate. They gave a council tax rebate to the richest people. Meanwhile people burned to death because they could not put proper cladding on.
Every bit of it. Look at Shelter, Shelter is a charity that should be fighting for people’s homes as they deal with homelessness but actually two of their board of trustees were involved in the companies that provided the cladding. The charitable foundation, the Chelsea and Kensington Foundation who were supposed to work with the poor and those in need in the Burgh, their chair approved the funding for the cladding. And then, to allow people in trauma and shock to be abandoned, to the collective care of the community that have stepped into the void, every bit of it, every bit of privatisation and outsourcing, every tax cut, every single step on the way has led to this and it’s a screaming outrage.
TF: What next is on the agenda post-Fringe, Mark?
We had a group that we set up very quickly after the fire of artists, writers, performers, filmmakers and all that kind of stuff to see what we should be doing to help, how we work with people at Grenfell, how we work with that community, what we can give and what can we do working shoulder to shoulder in solidarity rather than trying to co-opt or claim ownership of the issue. This group has been remarkable in that we have actually managed to supplement summer provision for children, because a lot of kids had the schedule and discipline of school but obviously also these are places (their school lost their teacher, they have lost children, it is a community that is in deep trauma) and we have been able to coordinate and supplement to get various venues to open up in summer provisions, working with community groups and stuff like that. We will be carrying on with that when we get back and seeing what we can do for the next steps.
Now if that does not grab you and make you want to pour your Edinburgh Festival budget into this benefit then the fact that it’s probably one of the best bills you are likely to see in 2017 should.
Bringing to Book is happening tonight only at New Town Theatre, 21:00. Tickets available here.