Director: Joe Douglas
Writer: Mark Thomas
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Mark Thomas has been performing stand-up comedy for 33 years. His shows have seldom deviated from a format whereby Thomas will take a story and recount it with him playing all the various characters – from activist to authority figure, freedom-fighter to slimy arms-dealer, Thomas would play them all.
However, for his latest show, Showtime from the Frontline, Thomas isn’t flying solo, he has brought some friends along for the ride. They are Faisal Abualheja and Alaa Shehada – two graduates from a comedy workshop that Thomas ran with his friend Sam Beale at the Freedom theatre in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.
Showtime from the Frontline doesn’t just tell the tale of Thomas and Beale’s decision to put together a comedy workshop, complete with two stand up shows; it also highlights the potential dangers of the area including check-point harassment and organised assassination. We get an insight into refugee camp life including local cuisine, prayer and curfews. In addition, and more importantly, we are introduced to the whole class through Abualheja and Shehada who perform as themselves and their classmates. Throughout the production, we find out their motivations for attending the course and get to see them develop their routine culminating in a screening of extracts from their sets and performances.
This is a thought-provoking, uplifting show about defiance and the importance of comedy that has all the ingredients to succeed but doesn’t quite deliver. The first half has a very stop-start feel to it and seems to suffer from a lack of rhythm. Thomas is at his best when he is in full flow, when he can fully draw you in, and that is missing here; this may be because of a few technical difficulties that affect the sound, but the first half feels slightly laboured.
However, where the first half struggles, there are no such issues with the second. Opening with all three performing as the camp committee who are there to approve the content of the show, it really gives the show a lift and the momentum never lets up, continuing through to its uplifting, feel-good climax.
There is certain a charm to both Shehada and Abualheja, who both have a gift for physical comedy and there is more than an element of acting ‘the clown’ to their performances; it certainly is a bold move by Thomas to share the stage with other performers. As stated, Thomas is best when he is in full ‘ranty’ mode which doesn’t happen nearly enough in this show, however, there is certainly more of theatrical nature to his performance which he has certainly developed from his previous shows The Red Shed and Cuckooed. The main strength of this production is the chemistry between the three performers, there is clearly a genuine friendship between them and it shines through in their performance.
With tales of hunger strikes and murders the subject matter can be a bit of a challenge at times, however, it concludes with a strong message of defiance, bravery and hope that – along with all of Thomas’ previous work – acts as a wake up call we all need to listen to.
Runs until Saturday 10 March