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Mark Thomas: Showtime from the Frontline – mac, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Perhaps Marlon Brando, leader of The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in The Wild Ones, first lit his fuse. ‘Hey Johnny, what you rebelling against?’ ‘Whadda you got?’ Long has Mark Thomas been curdling the venal fat-cats’ cream and door-step embarrassment-bombing their corporate greed-fests. Be they arms dealers, polluters, even New Labour, his moniker as megaphone publicity socialist stuntman is well-documented. He’s an indefatigable tungsten-tipped porcupine pricking the collective conscience (or lack thereof) of politicians caught with their pants down.

He stands by the fundamentals of democratic vox-pop. Even if it meant his daughter getting a whole school’s worth of signatures petitioning her dad to let her have a dog. Never doubting Thomas to set himself a real challenge – why not team-up with aspirational stand-ups/actors, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada from the Jenin Club in the West Bank? It came about from a Damascene moment when he was passing through Gaza, well possibly. Clueless in Gaza, more likely. Thomas has a gift for nudging along the narrative with nuanced apocrypha. He stands by the fundamentals of democratic vox-pop. Even if it meant his daughter getting a whole school’s worth of signatures petitioning her dad to let her have a dog. Never doubting Thomas set himself a real challenge – why not team-up with aspirational stand-ups/actors, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada from the Jenin Club in the West Bank? It came about from a Damascene moment when he was passing through Gaza, well possibly. Clueless in Gaza, more likely. Thomas has a gift for nudging along the narrative with nuanced apocrypha.

Entering under the Jenin arches of the refugee camp of the dispossessed he sees a set of keys – they symbolise the homes of evicted Palestinians going back to 1948. Thomas suggests the Israeli settlers (many illegal) might well have changed the locks by now. This is not a conflict he emphasises – ‘It’s a military occupation.”

With Sam Beale from Middlesex University as stand-up performance coach, their mission was to audition, coach and stage a night of aspiring local comedians – Jenin, a sprawling, compressed fourteen thousand people crammed against a monolithic concrete border wall being the source of rich comedy gold, obviously. And so it would be – from a certain perspective. The venue, The Jenin Freedom Theatre. Three years earlier its inspirational founder, Juliano Mer Khamis was murdered. Thomas will wrap-up the show with the salient absolute that fanatics, ideologues and tyrants can never take a joke. Faisal and Alaa both represent themselves and their fellow rookies who did stand-up sets on the actual night, women included. There are video-clip of individual acts.

Reconstructed role-plays and self-parody workshop lovey hissy-fits are explored as is the bizarre vocabulary of seemingly sporadic gunfire. Each has its own signature context. Prisoners released, a wedding, a birth, an Israeli incursion – an internecine assassination. A comedy of error and suspected terror ensues as Thomas relates the labyrinthine visa bureaucracy that almost prevented his guests being in the UK for this tour.

A handy Jenin tip – always carry a sliced onion with you in the likely event of being tear-gassed. Sniffing the acids kick-starts the brain into remembering to breathe. Comedy as an occupation or the comedy of occupation – whatever – you can still die laughing. Highlights – the uber-cool Pretentious Poets’ Club, to witness is to believe, or maybe the Camp committee elders’ reactionary disapproval of work in progress. Tonight there’s no doubting Thomas is at his gregarious best. A fire and brimstone rage against the machine becoming ever more so subtly fuelled.

Reviewed on 28 February 2018 | Image: Contributed

Reviewer: John Kennedy Perhaps Marlon Brando, leader of The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in The Wild Ones, first lit his fuse. ‘Hey Johnny, what you rebelling against?’ ‘Whadda you got?’ Long has Mark Thomas been curdling the venal fat-cats’ cream and door-step embarrassment-bombing their corporate greed-fests. Be they arms dealers, polluters, even New Labour, his moniker as megaphone publicity socialist stuntman is well-documented. He’s an indefatigable tungsten-tipped porcupine pricking the collective conscience (or lack thereof) of politicians caught with their pants down. He stands by the fundamentals of democratic vox-pop. Even if it meant his daughter getting a whole school’s worth…

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