A cabaret show with a dark political twist, Ballad of the Burning Star is a comedy so black it makes for an extremely difficult watch. This new work from Theatre ad Infinitum challenges and plays with its audience, ultimately pummeling it – and seemingly the performers – into submission.
Things start out rather big-C Liza-style Cabaret – our host, Star, is a grotesque drag performer whose exotic accent, mask-like make up and gently aggressive presenting style immediately brings to mind Joel Gray’s Emcee (even the opening number is surely a take on Wilkommen). And as the Kit Kat Club took on the Nazis, so Star’s act recalls the modern horrors of growing up in a war zone.
Drawn from performer Nir Paldi’s own experiences of his childhood and adolescence in Israel in the 80s and 90s, this musical play is masterfully crafted and twins that frivolous club style with the horrors of the outside world to devastating effect. Star is joined by on-stage musician Pete Neves, nicknamed Camp David, and five international female performers who subvert the concept of chorus girl to nightmarish effect.
Dressed in skimpy soldiers’ uniforms and hot pants, the girls – Orian Michaeli, Amy Nostbakken, Seiko Nakazawa, Stefie Sourial and Deborah Pugh – are not there simply to high kick. Their physical performances are demanding and haunting, as they balance not only highly energetic routines but take on characters in the story and deal with the increasingly unbalanced mind of their titular leading lady, Paldi’s Star.
Showtunes may sound jolly, but eventually become horrific – one number is a dead-eyed recital of the history of the displacement of the Jews. From the off, the piece’s humour is uncomfortable and hard to take, but when you grow up as Star did with a constant threat of gassings and bombings, you can see what they are getting at. Ballad of the Burning Star demands your attention, whether you like it or not – it’s loud, it’s political, it’s unusual and deeply affecting. It’s not easy viewing, but is avantgarde theatre full of twists with an incredibly powerful message.
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© Vicky Anderson 2013