First published in Newbury Weekly News: 20th July 2011
The conflict between Israel and Palestine isn’t usually a subject that lends itself easily to laughter, yet the Corn Exchange crowd seemed to leave Mark Thomas’ show Walking the Wall wearing big smiles.
His show tells the story of his ramble along the unfinished separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank and, as ever, is a project that no other comic would touch.
Thomas begins by telling his audience why he did it: “Curiosity, devilment and rambling, as well as the desire to walk it before the tourist buses arrive, like the Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China”.
Thomas, hippy cameraman Phil and a translator start the walk near the border with Jordan and just hours later, they are arrested. Arrest becomes a recurring theme of the show, along with pretending to be Scottish every time someone blames them for the situation as Lord Balfour who signed away the land in 1917 was English.
Due to Thomas’ incredible pacing, the two-hour show flies by, but packs in his whole nine-week adventure. It’s performed against a simple map as a backdrop with a sign threatening “mortal danger” so the perils are never in doubt, yet there’s still space for fantastic stories which bring the characters to life, powerful anecdotes, Hugh Grant impressions and Monty Python jokes. Thomas has an incredible ability to hold the audience’s attention and can flip instantly from quip to serious point, making the laughter stop dead.
He goes to great lengths to get both sides of the story, experiencing tear gas among protesters and escaping a stoning from Palestinian youngsters. There’s a fabulous description of his painful 45-minute journey through the checkpoint while face-to-face with a Palestinian builder and how it’s a different story crossing back through the same checkpoint – it takes just seconds. “No one gives a toss what anyone takes into Palestine,” he says.
The wall will be 728km when it is finished (which is almost twice as long as the actual Israel/Palestine boundary as the wall meanders in and out of Palestine). And for all this, Thomas’ most serious point is that it doesn’t work for either party.
There was chocolate for everyone in the audience, as promised when he was forced to cancel the original Newbury leg of his UK tour when he got laryngitis. When you see the energy that Thomas puts into the performance, as well as his trademark rapid-fire delivery, it’s clear to see why he might have worn out his throat. This entertaining, yet educational performance was well worth the wait.