"Hendon to Hebron, with laughs"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 06/07/10

Like all decent comedians Ivor Dembina knows how to deploy his stereotypes to good effect. In that spirit I might describe his brand of humour as typically Jewish in its self-effacing manner, mining presumptions about his identity as a way of simultaneously deconstructing the assumptions we make: about peoples, about politics, about histories.

Mr Dembina has a busy touring schedule for this show, including slots at City Cafe in Edinburgh (my favourite pub from student days) for the festival in August. However I'd be surprised if any of the locations are quite as unassuming as the Whittington Park Community Centre. Playing at 6pm on a sunny Sunday at a Holloway community centre might not be a recipe for a full house, and indeed it did look like we might be in for a very exclusive set until the very last moment, but in the end all the stackable chairs in the upstairs gym-cum-classroom were filled; Ivor mooched about in front of the kids' collages of fruit hung on the walls with a very poised blend of authority and intimacy and waving a broom handle in lieu of an armoured tank.

His show is not a subject for comedy because it is largely about the Israel-Palestine situation. That's not to say it's hard core politics. In a meandering intro we are old that the show is a 'story with jokes', and in the five years he has spent creating it Dembina has crafted a very reflective and well-woven narrative that charts his move from his inherited Jewish identity growing up in Hendon (voraciously anti-Arab in this case) to his own self-defined identity as a pro-Palestinian activist in the Occupied Territories (from Hendon to Hebron…), who also proves has Mother's adage that all Jews are funny.

That journey not only successfully charts the development of an individual conscience ("Are you a Socialist or are you a Jew Ivor?", he gets asked by his comrade Billy when the question of pro-Palestinian demonstrations arises in his teenage years), but also an insight into a shrewd and sensitive personality. As a child his enthusiasm for the Israeli state comes partly from his understanding, thanks to Jewish National Fund collection tins, that you can secure property in the Promised Land for the price of a penny in the box. By the time he has actually gone to the occupied West Bank, where his cousin lives in an illegal settlement, he believes that Jews should give up the territory occupied since the 1967 War (but hang on to New York).

In classic storytelling mode this comic bildungsroman keeps subtly picking up on threads dropped earlier on, and the combination of attention to narrative detail with a relaxed and seemingly spontaneous performance style makes this a thought-provoking, moving - and definitely funny - hour of entertainment. Check www.thinkbeforeyoulaugh.com for details of future shows.

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