Showtime From The Frontline
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds/Touring
AT FACE value, there isn’t much comedy potential in Mark Thomas’s Showtime From The Frontline.
Detailing his efforts to run a series of comedy workshops at The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp, he nonetheless manages to find humour in personal anecdotes.
How to shape those individual stories within a wider political framework is what he instils in the students who enrol in the workshops that he runs with lecturer and stand-up performer Sam Beale.
The impact of those lessons is evident in the presence of two workshop graduates, Alaa Shehada and Faisal Abu Alhayjaa, who use physical humour to play a host of other roles. These include fellow students struggling to find their voices and, in one memorable three-way scene, rancorous theatre directors.
Their development as comedians, mapped out here, is all the more remarkable given that the show finds them initially grappling to find comedy in a life regulated by curfews, pipe-bombs and hunger strikes. Yet individual successes are shown on video footage, with Shehada and Abu Alhayjaa giving live performances of their graduation sets.
Using a mixture of Arabic and English, the three-hander directed by Joe Douglas makes this more of a theatrical production than Thomas’s usual routines, which often rely on audience members to spark them off.
Even so, Thomas immerses himself personally in his subject matter — footage shows him drinking salt water in solidarity with those on hunger strike — and in conveying an optimism that situations can change for the better.
He offers a convincing argument that comedy is a powerful tool in giving voice to the voiceless in the fight against authoritarianism.
Tours until April 21, details: markthomasinfo.co.uk
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