Wednesday 25th April

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MARK THOMAS 3 - Please credit Lesley Martin

Mark Thomas: “Stop seeing refugees as victims. They’re humans showing remarkable courage and imagination.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

When picturing the West Bank, many think of people blighted by shortages, air raid sirens and fear – the result of decades of fighting and Israeli occupation.  Accordingly, most attempts to improve the lives of over half a million refugees sandwiched between Israel and Jordan focus on better access to food, water and jobs.  

But Mark Thomas – the leading campaigning comedian – saw people needing creative outlets and, vitally, laughter.  He set up a series of comedy courses in the Jenin Refugee Camp – among the most radicalised and allegedly responsible for 28 suicide bombings during the Second Intifada – with the aim of putting on shows for locals to enjoy.  

This week and next, Thomas tells the story of this incredible initiative in Showtime From The Frontline at Theatre Royal Stratford East, alongside Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada – two talented Palestinian performers who graduated from the course.

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Category: Comedy
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Tom Walker: “When Pie’s shouting at the Tories, he’s also satirising the Left in the same moment.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

By any metric, 2016 was an extraordinary year, not least for Tom Walker whose comic creation, Jonathan Pie, surfed into the satirical landscape on a wave of deceptively insightful diatribes about austerity, Brexit and Trump.  Soon, millions of people awaited the spoof news correspondent’s latest rant-filled take on current events – in short and sharp three-minute instalments – with bated breath.

Seizing the moment, Walker – together with comedian Andrew Doyle – penned a solo show giving greater depth to the Pie character as he struggled to host segments of Children In Need.  The result was a success, receiving a four-star review here and praise for its “ability to spew out persuasive points amongst the bile”.  Tomorrow night, Walker returns to Hammersmith with a second live show, Back To The Studio, addressing the way we consume news and avoiding his main mistake from last time around. 

“That first show was a massive learning curve,” Walker says, “because I’d never done anything like it.  I’m an actor, not a stand-up comedian, so I foolishly made it too contemporary, focusing on austerity and the Tories.  When I wrote it, Brexit was miles off and though Trump had announced his nomination, everyone still thought he was a joke.  So on the morning after the Brexit vote, I had to scrap a third of the script and rewrite it.”

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Category: Comedy
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Adam Riches: “Acting didn’t satisfy the side of my brain that was interested in challenging myself riskily.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Adam Riches may be one of the most charming, loquacious masochists around.  

The performer whose commitment to art saw him shatter his right leg from the knee down when performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 but reappear four days later in a wheelchair.  A character comedian who acknowledges that his chosen style – often incorporating a large slice of audience participation – means “effectively ruining your sketch immediately from the ideal”.  And a risk-taker who’s chosen to revisit a show that, in his own words, “bombed so badly in 2003 that it took me a very long time to get over.”

Given this, it’s no surprise to see the former Edinburgh Comedy Award-winner take the unusual step of putting on five different shows at Network Theatre this week as part of Vault Festival, including that ill-fated 2003 production, Plat Du Nuit: The Comeback Special.  He’s actually taking on seven scripts, given that Thursday’s performance combined three works-in-progress – Coach Coach 2: Coach Harder, The Lone Dueller and The Guy You … – that will develop into stand-alone shows at this year’s Fringe.  This partly explains why he’s taken on this challenge.

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Category: Comedy
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Naomi Sheldon: “I’d love a world where we reclaim our emotions, not wait for them to affect our mental health.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Naomi Sheldon’s an ideal inspiration for anyone stuck in a rut.  In just two years, she’s gone from frustrated actress to creator and star of one of the most powerful, talked about plays in London.  

Good Girl, which Sheldon wrote in 2016 and debuted at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, runs for five nights at Vault Festival from tomorrow before transferring to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios for four weeks.  And in between performances, she’s busy penning the screenplay for a TV adaptation in conjunction with Clerkenwell Films, the company behind the highly acclaimed Misfits and The End of the F*cking World.

It’s quite a turnaround for the engaging Sheldon who, despite learning drama at the same school as Dame Judi Dench, had grown disillusioned by the lack of “juicy, meaty parts” available.  “I felt unsatisfied as an actor,” she says, “so thought about writing my own solo show.  I quickly realised that’s relatively easy to do, as you don’t need to wait for permission from the industry.  It’s an incredibly empowering process.”

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Category: Comedy
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Lauren Silver: Surprise! review

Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Lauren Silver’s superb show exposes her anxiety in the most visceral, warm and entertaining of ways

Anyone who’s attended an arts festival in recent years couldn’t help but notice the positive trend of performers talking about their mental health in a way that many would’ve recoiled from a decade ago.  This year’s Vault Festival is no different, with the likes of Sofia Del Pizzo, Naomi Sheldon and Joz Norris putting on important shows that address and explore anxiety, depression and related conditions.

Where Lauren Silver’s excellent piece of theatrical comedy differs is in actually provoking her social and anticipation anxiety to appear on stage.  She doesn’t just talk about it: she makes us live it with her.

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Category: Comedy

What’s On London Comedy Awards 2017

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Now the New Year bells have finished chiming, it’s time to announce our Comedy Awards for the year just gone and news of where you can catch these fantastic acts in the months ahead.

There’s no shortage of talent around, so whittling down the vast forest of performers to a handful for each category has been tricky and some excellent comics have had to be overlooked.  On the plus side, that competition for bums on seats is driving artists onto new heights, constantly pushing boundaries of subject matter, delivery style and occasionally taste.

This is superb news for Londoners because, despite underlying political and economic uncertainty, its comedy scene is thriving.  While leading lights like Soho Theatre, Leicester Square Theatre and The Comedy Store will always drawn top acts and expectant audiences, it’s been fantastic to see less established venues such as 2Northdown and The Bill Murray host some of the biggest names in comedy this year, while monthly events like Suspiciously Cheap Comedy, Knock2bag and Rye Laughs regularly put on the best mixed bills in the country.

So take our advice and fill your 2018 with grins, chuckles and snorts by heading along to those venues or catching our top picks in stand-up, character, storytelling, musical, sketch and improvised comedy for 2017.

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Category: Comedy
30 CHRISTMASES - Production Image (3), image by Josh Tomalin

Thirty Christmases review

Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

A marvellous musical comedy that manages to turn family trauma into heart-warming festive fare.

The story of a brother and sister trying to come to terms with a traumatic event may not sound like the most promising basis for a feelgood Christmas production, but few shows have quite so much festive soul as Thirty Christmases.

Part of that stems from the acting on display, with Jonny Donahoe, Rachel Parris and Paddy Gervers comfortably translating the warmth and humour of their comedy onto the stage.  But it’s mainly in the writing, with Donahoe managing to merge a cynical deconstruction of this objectively absurd annual event with sufficient affection and positivity about the human spirit.

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Category: Comedy
30 CHRISTMASES - Promo Image (1), image by Anna Soderblom

Jonny Donahoe: “If Christmas resonates of loss, grief or even guilt, you can’t escape that.”

Next week, rebellious musical comedy Thirty Christmases makes its London debut.  The brainchild of playwright, actor and musical comedian Jonny Donahoe – who stars in the show alongside Rachel Parris and Paddy Gervers – offers an intriguing alternative to more traditional glitzy festive fare.  

Ahead of the three-week run at New Diorama Theatre, Ian Cater caught up with the engaging Donahoe to discuss the show’s origins, and a host of topics ranging from Victoria Wood to reindeer sex.

For Andy Williams, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.  “But for a lot of people, it’s traumatic,” Jonny Donahoe explains, with the patient, persuasive voice of his Every Brilliant Thing character, rather than the booming baritone heard at a Jonny and the Baptists gig.  “If it resonates of loss, grief or even guilt, you can’t escape that.  And it’s compounded by the fact that everywhere you go people are signposting that they’re having a joyous time.”

That harsh reality forms the backdrop to Thirty Christmases, written and performed this month by Donahoe at Euston’s New Diorama Theatre.  If it sounds a heavy premise for a festive show, that was the 34-year-old’s intention.

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Category: Comedy