COMEDY REVIEW: Mark Thomas @ Gala Theatre, Durham (31.03.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Comedy – according to Mark Thomas – is about setting up a story, subverting the ending in an unexpected way. Do this, and hilarity is sure to ensue. So if you boil comedy down to this simple concept, it begs the question: can stand-up comedy be successfully taught?

Mark Thomas might not have been the type for comedy workshops in the past, but he decided to trial his own how-to-stand-up course in Jenin, a Palestinian refugee camp. In 2014, he and his team made the journey to the West Bank, to Jenin Freedom Theatre, and taught a small group of young people born and raised in Jenin how to construct their own sets.

Now, Mark Thomas performs alongside alumni of his workshop, Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada, acting out their own stories and presenting their stand-up comedy sets. The whole show is rife with political commentary and first-hand accounts of the conflict, but Faisal and Alaa’s comedy – while its focus on experiences in a war-torn region are pretty unrelatable to UK audiences – is recognisable in its structure, and really quite funny. They’re also pretty incredible at physical comedy, as they act out the roles of their classmates unable to travel from Jenin using an amusing mix of costume and exaggerated mannerisms. Whether or not they’re successfully funny because of the workshop is up for debate: there’s some elements of comedy that can only come from within. But what Mark Thomas has done is facilitated this opportunity for stories which would otherwise go unheard to be told to audiences across the UK.

If comedy is all about telling stories, then you better tell the important ones.

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