artswith Comedy

Freedom of expression in Jenin’s refugee camp theatre

If, as George Orwell said, every joke is a revolution, then NUJ member Mark Thomas could be on the way to solving the crisis in the Middle East. The comedian’s latest project,

Showtime from the Frontline, tells how he set out to run a comedy club for two nights in Jenin, a city in the north of the West Bank. “I wanted to do it in Gaza, but it

turns out Hamas didn’t have that great a sense of humour,” he deadpans. “In Jenin, there is a refugee camp, and in that refugee camp is the Jenin Freedom Theatre. “Thousands of people live in the

camp. It’s huge. It’s crowded, it was razed to the ground, during the intafada. It’s a really, really cramped series of alleyways with people living on top of each other. “And in the middle of it all is a

theatre. What I love is that a theatre in a refugee camp defies people’s preconceptions about refugees. Are they desperately trying to get to Britain? Or are they waiting with a begging bowl for Bob Geldof to turn up? The theatre allows them to create art, and to find beauty and

20 | theJournalist

identity in their lives.” Thomas, who’s joined on tour

by aspiring Palestinian comics Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada, found it wasn’t simple to perform stand-up and celebrate freedom of speech in a place with so little freedom. “Stand-up is the ultimate freedom

of expression in Palestine, because once you talk … it’s out there,” he says. “When you’re performing to people with different cultural beliefs and expectations, things change. “Some people in the camp think

women shouldn’t be on stage at all, others think all comedy should be about resistance to the Israeli occupation. There’s a complexity and the show attempts to unpick that.” Mark says the show is “the story

of trying to be yourself in a place where everyone wants to put you in a box”, explaining “I want people to come out of it with a bit more understanding about the complexity of Palestine and the struggle people have to find their own voices.” He adds: “It’s lots of fun. It’s like a

Liberation version of Fame.”


by Tim Lezard

Theatre Black Men Walking On tour Journalist Maxwell Ayamba inadvertently played a role in this rambling tale of 2,000 years of black British history. In 2004, the Ghanaian co- founded a health group to encourage black men to reject their sedentary lifestyles and, inspired by this, a handful of Sheffield residents began meeting monthly to hike through the Peak District. The Eclipse theatre company

approached Testament to write a play about them and the rapper didn’t disappoint, recounting previously untold stories in what he describes as “a celebration of blackness, of Britishness, and the fighting spirit that Yorkshire has.”

The Birthday Party Harold Pinter Theatre, London, until 14 April If you’re looking for theatre in the West End, it’s hard to see beyond this amazing Birthday Party revival. Set in a rundown seaside boarding house and starring Toby Jones as Stanley and Zoe Wanamaker as Meg, Pinter’s ambiguous comedy of menace sees a birthday party turn into nightmare on the arrival of two sinister strangers.

Books The Ghost of Franz Kafka Patric Cunnane NUJ member Patric Cunnane has published a collection of his latest poems, The Ghost

of Franz Kafka. Why that title? “Because Kafka was a socialist and many of these poems adopt a progressive viewpoint while nodding to the alienation in Kafka’s world,” he says. “And, if you ever need to explain poetry to a cab driver, look no further…” www.palewellpress.

Readers’ Liberation Jonathan Rose History professor

Jonathan Rose poses questions that will cause journalists sleepless nights: is reading a dying art? Can we trust what we read? This densely written and heavily researched book – who knew Emil and the Detectives was banned by the Nazis? – tackles serious issues of censorship, surveillance and mass manipulation, touching on fake news, propaganda and the pervasive influence of advertisers and publicists on the media. It’s heavy going, but then this topic is always going to be, right? Oxford University Press, http://tinyurl. com/yc3nfpy8

FIRE! The Cotton Mill Disaster That Echoed Down The Generations Dave Hulme NUJ life member Dave Hulme would like to thank all the journalists who made his first-ever book possible, but he can’t because they’re all dead. But Hulme, who spent more than 25 years working in BBC local radio, newspapers and news agencies, acknowledges them in his book. The book, meanwhile, tells the story of the fire that destroyed the Vernon cotton mill in his home town of Stockport in

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