Stratford show tells how a comedian brought laughter to a refugee camp

PUBLISHED: 17:00 31 March 2018

Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada will be appearing at Theatre Royal Stratford East Picture: Lesley Martin

Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada will be appearing at Theatre Royal Stratford East Picture: Lesley Martin

Lesley Martin NO REUSE

A comedian is bringing the true story of how he set up a comedy club in a Palestinian refugee camp to the Stratford stage.

Mark Thomas will be recounting the tale in Showtime from the Frontline, celebrating freedom of expression in a country that has so little freedom.

He discovered the Jenin camp, which houses 17,000 people within just one square kilometre, in 2009 when he walked the length of Israel’s barrier in the West Bank.

But in 2014, when he was in Jerusalem for a book tour, he went back up to Jenin and watched a ‘simply remarkable’ show at the garage-esque Jenin Freedom Theatre.

It was then that the idea to run a comedy course there came to fruition. It took three years of negotiations to set up, eventually running for two and a half weeks in April last year.

“We had to establish who could do the course, what rights did people have, and what rights we had,” Mark explained.

He now tells this story in his new show, celebrating freedom of expression in a country that has so little freedom.

Two of the theatre’s actors, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Sheheda, perform alongside him, despite encountering many trials and tribulations to get to the UK.

Showtime is a combination of stand up, repertoire and improvisation.

“I love it,” said Mark. “The thought barely touches your brain before it reaches the minds of the audience.

“It’s the ultimate form of freedom of expression.

“It’s radical content. It’s radical form. And Faisal and Alaa’s voices are at the very centre of the show.”

The three-month national tour is set to conclude in Stratford, and as Mark puts it: “Stratford is proper London. It’s not one of those stale bourgeois areas which have become barren gentrified landscapes of empty houses and property investment.”

He also praised the Raffles Square theatre and its creative director, Nadia Fall as “a breath of fresh air, going above and beyond what other companies have done for us”.

Showtime from the Frontline is running from Tuesday, April 10 to Saturday, April 21, with post-show talks following on selected dates. Tickets are £10-£24.

For more information and to book, visit or call the box office on 020 8534 0310.

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