Review: Showtime from the Frontline – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Friday February 16 2018

Four Stars

The comedian Mark Thomas is clearly a man who relishes a challenge. The inspiration for this show came to him while he was in the West Bank to promote Extreme Rambling, his book chronicling his experience of walking the length of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier in 2010. Could he, he wondered, set up and run a comedy club in Gaza for one night only?

 

While Hamas-controlled Gaza proved too much of a stretch even for Thomas, the veteran political comedian and his team eventually settled on running a series of workshops in the West Bank city of Jenin with actors from the Jenin Freedom Theatre, culminating in a comedy showcase for the students.

Joining Thomas to recount that rich, rewarding, if at times fraught experience, are two of the performers he refers to as his “little adopted comedy children”, Faisal Abualheja and Alaa Shehada. While aspects of their delivery lack finesse, the material is nonetheless strong and unexpected. “In Palestine we don’t have stand-up comedy, only stand-up tragedy”, opens Shehada, before embarking on a well-observed routine about his mother’s interference in his love life. Abualheja, meanwhile, delivers a very funny meditation on the rate of lovemaking in the Jenin refugee camp during the curfew, perfectly illustrating the show’s tenet that comedy can be found in the darkest of situations.

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Pic: Steve Ullathorne

Directed with a deceptively light touch by Joe Douglas, the two-hour show is a winning marriage of stand-up and storytelling theatre. Thomas’s performance is as warm and engaging as ever, unflinching about the soul-destroying aspects of life under occupation, as in his account of the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s director, but unwaveringly positive about the power of humour as a weapon in the battle against oppression.

 

Box office: 0131 228 1404, to Sat, and touring to Apr 21. Markthomasinfo.co.uk

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