‘I promise you’ve never seen anything like it’: Mark Thomas on Showtime from the Frontline

Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada (Lesley Martin)
Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada (Lesley Martin)

IN 2009, comedian Mark Thomas embarked on a 440-mile journey across the Israel West Bank wall.

The trek took three months from start to finish, partly due to Mark and his companions stopping to talk to interesting people and being invited into friendly family’s homes.

The long travel time was also because he was arrested three times.

“I was stopped by the army and detained”, explained Matt. “There you can be held indefinitely without charge.

“It was a life-changing experience”, he said of the walk. “I didn’t realise how stupid I was before.

“You see for yourself the daily humiliation that comes with the occupation. It’s a vile, vile thing.”

Mark then spent time at Jenin refugee camp, home to the Jenin Freedom Theatre.

Inspired by the people, creativity and gallows humour, Mark then set about the unlikely task of creating a comedy club within the camp.

“The people there aspire past their environments and surroundings.

“Since going there that first year I’ve continually gone back.”

Classes at the camp were taught techniques on how to express themselves, and teachers were equipped with the skills to keep the club going.

Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada (Lesley Martin)

“The ideas all stayed in Jenin”, said Mark.

Two of the star performers from the club – comedians Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada – have flown to the UK for the tour of Showtime from the Frontline.

“It was incredibly hard to get the travel visas”, said Mark.

“We had expert lawyers, we had backing from politicians, we had full-time researchers.

“Even with those resources, we were still faced with obstacles and red tape.

“People talk about how easy it is to get into the country, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

‘There’s this awful assumption that people in refugee camps are just sitting waiting for Bob Geldof to save them’

Mark and his co-stars are bringing their show to the Tron Theatre as part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival.

“They [Faisal and Alaa] are having a ball.

“The show is it’s own genre – I think we’ve created something completely unique.

“I promise you’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s a play really – we’ve smuggled a play on-stage”, laughed Mark.

Showtime from the Frontline is directed by the Dundee Rep’s Joe Douglas, who staged The Cheviot the Stag and the Black Black Oil.

“The show challenges preconceptions about refugee camps and what’s it like to live under the occupation.

“There’s this awful assumption that people in refugee camps are just sitting waiting for Bob Geldof to come along and save them.

“People think they’re all dependent, just waiting with their hands out.

“I despise that image, I think it’s really damaging.”

Mark Thomas, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada (Lesley Martin)

The show will come to Glasgow from the 21st March through to the 24th.

“We love the Tron and we love Glasgow.

“Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast are all cities that you have to do well in.

“They’re cities with radical culture, with a history of defiance and disobedience.”

Interview: Scot Squad star Chris Forbes on ‘rip-roaring’ stand-up and performing in Glasgow

What next?

Mark is working on a new piece about the future of the NHS.

“I’m 54 and the NHS is 70.

“If I reach my life expectancy age of 84, the NHS will have turned 100.

“Right now I’m asking – ‘What sort of state will I be in then? and ‘What sort of state will the NHS be in?'”

As part of the research for this role, Mark will be interviewing Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England at the Tron on 25th March.

The project is still in the research stage, and Mark says he doesn’t know yet what form it will take or where it will go.

“I go off and have an adventure, then I write the story”, he explained.

“For Showtime for the Frontline, I didn’t even write the script until right at the end, for the technical staff in rehearsal.

“I think that keeps it fresh, fun and truthful.”

Bridget Christie is bringing her ‘smorgasbord’ of a show to the Glasgow Comedy Festival