Mark Thomas: Showtime from the Frontline review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
“Find your stories from inside yourselves.” This is what Mark Thomas tells the students at his comedy workshop in the Jenin Freedom Theatre in occupied Palestine. It’s what he’s been doing for the last 33 years as a comedian, activist and thearemaker after all.
Showtime from the Frontline describes Thomas’ visit to the theatre in the Jenin refugee camp where, along with comedian Sam Beale, he gave a series of workshops. These resulted in the pupils staging their own comedy performances.
What sets this apart from Thomas’ previous shows is the involvement of other performers. It feels like something he has long been building up to, as his work has evolved from standup to the creation of more dramatic narratives, the most recent of which saw him inviting audience members on stage to play some of the characters.
Here, two of his Jenin students – Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada – join him in performing the piece. They play their fellow students in the scene-setting first half and add their own stand-up routines to a second half that includes video shot during those original performances.
Under Joe Douglas’ well-paced direction, the contributions of Thomas’ co-stars are not just integral to the framing of the whole enterprise – poking fun at old-fashioned Palestinian patriarchs and spotty, gun-totting teenage Israeli soldiers alike – but they also deepen the audience’s understanding of life in Jenin.
Like much of Thomas’ work, Showtime deconstructs form in front of our eyes and reconstructs it in a blast against authority that is designed to discomfort its targets while tickling our funny bones.