Review: Mark Thomas, Extreme Rambling: Walking the Wall, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, Feb 2011

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is not the most obvious choice of theme for a comedy tour, but this is no ordinary tour and Mark Thomas is no ordinary comedian. Aided with a gigantic map of Israel and the West Bank as his backdrop, the evening begins with Mark explaining how he funded his latest work – a walk along the 750 km wall that divides Israel and Palestine – with a thank you to the Metropolitan Police. In 2010, Mark was awarded £1200 compensation from the police for an illegal stop and search they had undertaken in 2007, so he put the money towards funding the walk. ‘I asked them if it was alright to use their logo’ he says with a cheeky smile, ‘and they didn’t reply, so I thought, yeah, why not, I’m just showing my appreciation.’

Although his energy and writing are superior, what ties the show together are Mark’s impressions of his companions on the walk. The characters are brought to life with great comic effect, but it is the stories that stay with you long after you leave the theatre; stories told with poignancy and precision timing. Mark is a gifted storyteller, and this is easily his best tour to date. The story of the wall, his experiences both side of it, and the people that made the extreme ramble possible are all stories worth telling. Ultimately, he is a performer, and understands that this is a complex issue that cannot be played just for laughs – that simply isn’t his style. The stories of humiliation faced by the people he encounters, are often followed with a loaded silence, which he then punctures with a quick line offering some light relief.

The show is a testimony of courage too. In one town, Palestinian children as young as six are regularly stoned by Israeli settlers as they make their way to school. On the day Mark watches them make their journey, they gambol over the hill unscathed; they’ve made it. ‘This is the best it gets for them,’ he says. The silence is deafening, and a few sniffs can be heard amongst the audience.

Mark’s reputation as a campaigner has gone from strength to strength, helped by his tenacious attitude and passion for justice, and this tour sees him on form once more. The show comes highly recommended for those of you who want to look beyond the media images of suicide bombers and army tanks. Entertaining, thoughtful and very moving.

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