“Martin was my friend for seven years. He was Campaign Coordinator for Campaign Against the Arms Trade.”
With betrayal comes a lingering shame. The intimacy of a long-term friendship, on the basis of chosen company and shared sentiments, is distinct from the burden of familial blood ties. To be hoodwinked by a close friend is to trudge way beyond mere sadness and humiliation. One must question a stockpile of exchanges and shared secrets. In the case of British comedian and activist Mark Thomas, a problem shared or an issue raised with his good friend Martin was in double jeopardy due to broken trust and leaked information.
In Cuckooed, directed by Emma Callander, the 59E59 Theaters stage is bordered on either side with filing cabinets that South London writer and performer Thomas pulls open to reveal his screened and prerecorded circle of friends and fellow Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) activists, Nick, Laura, Emily, Gid and Ann. The aim of CAAT couldn't be any clearer. Its Blofeld enemy is BAE Systems, a British multinational defense, security and aerospace company. One of CAAT's many inventive modi operandi is to disrupt, mislead and expose the buyers and sellers, many of them illegal, in the 'world's a stage' arms trade. Thomas, a long-time reliable lefty presence on UK TV and the comedy club circuit, opens the cabinet drawers on CAAT's legitimate and lawful struggle to subvert.
Martin, we are told, not only by Thomas' rousing delivery but by the recollections of others, was much more than a Campaign Coordinator. His appealing personality traits ranged from “working class, rough as shit, prone to kindness” to “it's as if he had walked out of every Johnny Cash song I'd ever loved.” Martin was a friend to all, loyal, reliable and prepared to tread those extra dicey steps for a cause in which they all believed and worked tirelessly for. Except he wasn't. As it turns out, Martin was a mole.
Thomas and friends share their initial feelings of incredulity and anger and the desire to protect their friend's good character and perceived unfair dismissal. But doubt, in this case supported by facts, can drive a wedge between solid friendships and a painful stake in the hearts of the duped. When Thomas is faced with a thick file of overwhelming evidence against his friend, he and the rest of CAAT plus extended friends and family members must concur with the accusers that Martin was a BAE Systems spy.
In Cuckooed, Thomas relives his ordeal and puts its consequences very much in the present. Martin has never attempted to explain his activities, but the 'why' is not the point of the show. Instead, this is Thomas' successful bid to get us to invest and empathize with a very personal story of activism, camaraderie, and the long-term and far-reaching effects of deception.