In Conversation: Ed Edwards and Mark Thomas

The acclaimed playwright Ed Edwards' England & Son was written for Mark Thomas. Their story began at the Fringe, five years ago.

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England & Son
Photo by Alex Brenner
Published 14 Aug 2023

Ed: Where did we first meet? 

Mark: I came to see your show, at Summerhall, because it looked great: The Political History of Smack and Crack? I’m in. Then we met outside as I was enthusing about it in my normal calm way. We started having these great old natters about colonialism, empire, all of that. 

Ed: Then I had an idea, and thought ‘ooh, Mark’d like this.’ For me [England & Son], it's a horror story, a ghost story, about how Britain is haunted by this sense that we’re still an oppressive nation. All this stuff about Saudi Arabia, but we're bombing Yemen, Syria, Libya. That attitude of liberal intervention comes straight out of the empire playbook; ‘we're civilizing them!’ So it’s sort of about that, for me. 

Mark: I like to think it's a psychological Greek tragedy set within the context of the British Empire.

Ed: Exactly. That's far better.

Mark: It's a good excuse for me to run around, play different characters. One of the things I love about your writing: that rawness, it doesn’t feel filtered, it's an exciting way of performing. I’ve acted some characters in my other shows, and I did a breakfast play at the Traverse – they promised me a bacon roll, and I'm fairly cheap – but this is the first time that I've been in someone else's play.

Ed: But you also manage to be yourself. Because that was my worry, that people would be thinking ‘great, a Mark Thomas show,’ then turn up and go ‘what the fuck is this?’ So I was really relieved that it’s still a Mark Thomas show. Because I was thinking ‘oh my god, we'll have to put a warning on it.’

Mark: ‘No knob gags.’

Ed: I think there are a couple. The thing is, I want it to be entertaining too. I couldn’t write something that hasn’t got lots of twists and turns, and jokes.

Mark: What I'd like people to get out of this, I'd like people to think ‘I want to come back to the theatre.’ I went to drama school when I was 18, which I loved; within the first term I was in someone’s assessment play, painting myself for a body art thing. So I’ve that kind of background, and I haven't gone back to that at all. But then this is not traditional theatre.

Ed: I do write plays, but it’s not naturalism, people don't walk on and have conversations. As soon as I see a sofa on stage, I've got to leave. 

Mark: I'm like that with French windows. I think, ‘some cunt’s coming through that with a tennis racket.’

Ed: Right. So I always try to do something different. Did you try the new ending last night?

Mark: I did, and I love the fact that we're about to go to Edinburgh, and we go ‘fuck, whats the ending?’ That's thrilling. I always trust you to write something that’s going to be exciting.

Ed: And then we need Cressida [Brown, director] to come and say ‘what the fuck does this mean?’ She’s the force there.  

Mark: Cress is amazing. You and I both have the capacity to go off on tangents at the drop of a hat. I always knew there’d be awkward days, slightly out of my comfort zone. And what Cress is brilliant at, she provides incredible structure, really insightful. It's brilliant to work with people you really like and respect.

Ed: What is nice, is having someone to write for who inspires you.

Fest: Could you become the Scorsese and De Niro of experimental theatre? 

Ed: I’m up for it. 

Mark: We regard this show as our Taxi Driver moment. And now we're going to be working towards our Goodfellas.