03:45PM, Friday 02 February 2018
Stand-up comedy and punchy one liners might not immediately come to mind when thinking of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
But veteran left-wing comedian Mark Thomas hopes to change that perception with Showtime from the Frontline.
He tells the story of his mission to Palestine to start a comedy club in a refugee camp in Jenin – a city near Israel’s West Bank Barrier with a history of conflict.
On-stage help comes from his ‘students’ Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada, who were lucky enough to get through the bureaucratic rigmarole of being Palestinian to get a VISA.
The trio’s performance, a blend of energetic character acting and live stand-up, puts a more human face to the Palestine often seen on the news.
We hear about a former leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade reading Dr Seuess to children to sharpen up his English.
There’s a mum and dad getting frisky during curfew; a teacher taking kids to a rally as an excuse to get a falafel sandwich.
Showtime from the Frontline is about life under the occupation, not the occupation itself.
There are daring yet playful gags on religious, cultural and political taboos which had me laughing and engaged throughout.
And while it is clear Mark stands in solidarity with the people of the West Bank, the show itself doesn’t feel preachy.
As the workshop of young comedians prepare for their shows against a backdrop of hunger strikes, they face the challenge to produce daring and thought provoking comedy show which can also make it through the conservative sensibilities of the Jenin Freedom Theatre Committee.
Faisal and Alaa's account of their love for stand-up in a place where tragedy is abundant shows how empowering comedy can be.
As Mark says, authoritarian regimes might have control over the media or the streets, ‘but they cannot control what’s written on the back of a toilet door’.
Whatever your views on the Arab-Isreali conflict, Showtime from the Frontline offers a refreshing take on the lives of Palestinians and shows how comedy can unlock delicate topics.
Mark’s journey will have you thinking hard about a complicated political dynamic and chuckling the whole time you do.
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