Mark Thomas: Showtime From The Frontline
- Brian Donaldson
- 27 February 2018
A bold show about giving a platform to those who might never be able to express themselves
Mark Thomas may tackle serious topics, but he's perfectly entitled to be a bit silly now and again. From growing up with a tough father (Bravo Figaro!), being betrayed by a close friend (Cuckooed), and exposing the general awfulness of corporate juggernauts (Belching Out The Devil), the London stand-up and activist has never been afraid to confront difficult individuals and groups, even if it means putting himself in perilous situations. The latter was never more apparent than when he went for a spot of extreme rambling along the West Bank barrier for 2011's Walking the Wall.
That fraught adventure was the initial trigger for this new stand-up / theatre piece, Showtime From The Frontline, which tells the story of his efforts to host workshops and open a comedy club in the Palestinian city of Jenin. Alongside Sam Beale, his old pal and senior lecturer in theatre arts at Middlesex University, Thomas sought to tap into the talent at the Jenin Freedom Theatre (whose founder was later to be gunned down in front of his children outside the venue). For this show (directed by Joe Douglas), he's brought along Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada, two of the comics he met and mentored there.
As well as Alhayjaa and Shehada performing their own material, they also take on the roles of their fellow Jenin comics, with the audience able to judge how closely they capture them given that we later see footage of the real people in action. Arguably, the actual comedy on display is secondary to the context in which the work was produced while the real joy of Showtime From The Frontline is witnessing the glee that Thomas, Alhayjaa and Shehada bring to the piece.
In that vein, the stand-out moment arrives at the beginning of the second half when they mimic the impossible-to-please members of the Palestinian National Authority who pass harsh judgment on the acts and their teacher. Whether we are witnessing the next batch of international crossover comedians remains to be seen, but what's far more important is Mark Thomas' bold act in giving people a platform to express themselves even when they exist in dire living circumstances.
Mark Thomas: Showtime From The Frontline is on tour until Saturday 21 April. Reviewed at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.