With the use of a projector screen, some green stools and more stories than you can shake a stick at Showtime on the Frontline transports us to the Jenin Freedom Theatre in Palestine. Not a location most would consider synonymous with free speech and laughter, but still a space in which Mark Thomas believes he can run a series of workshops on Comedy.
The shows course runs from Thomas arriving in Palestine, passing Israeli check-points in his white loafers and cherry blossom shirt to the night of stand-up performed at the Freedom Theatre. Mark Thomas is a gifted story-teller who captivates his audience with intelligent writing and giggle-inducing anecdotes immediately, reliving his days in Palestine. Then we are flung into the rehearsal room where the workshop participants are all performed byFaisal Abualheja and Alaa Shehada. With theatrical flair and the knack for comedy, these two are an unstoppable, seemingly never ending train of energy who have us slapping our knees at their impersonations of their peers. A favourite scene is the three men sat side by side impersonating the Theatres committee members watching the evening of stand-up, whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of each other.
The best facet of this show is that it isn’t a dumbed down, tragic, Wednesday night documentary of peoples lives in conflict. But a looking glass into the real lives of Palestinians who’s opinions and personalities are as varied as the iPhones they carry in their pockets (you need to see the show to get that joke). Unbeknownst to me I am being educated far beyond what I see on television.
A side split-tingly funny show, moving and relatable human moments are juxtaposed with real tragedy turning tears of laughter to tears of sadness as quickly as Faisal and Alaa change their characters (hats). It finds light where there is darkness, and as Thomas reminds us as the show comes to a close, Comedy is a political art medium, and it allows us to give the middle finger to authoritarian regimes.
The sense of ease in the room feels far more like a comedy gig than a gritty political drama but that doesn’t make the show any less poignant. It’s almost as if we are also part of the comedy workshop! The obvious enjoyment the performers feel throughout the show is infectious and their friendship helps to convey just how powerful the whole project has been for all involved and I sincerely hope this show receives the recognition it deserves. - Lucy Newbery