“Ballad Of The Burning Star” @ Battersea Arts Centre

This isn’t a theatre review as such – because it’s extremely difficult to be able to critique something that affected me in such a significant way. It’s just some thoughts in no logical order.

Have you ever seen a show miles from home yet speak to you in a way that is far too close to home?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a huge variety of performance, and even more fortunate to be in a position to freely articulate how I feel about it in a way that highlights the beauty and necessity of theatre. Theatre as a method of critique, theatre as an aid to us understanding the way interpret the complex social and political landscape we live in, theatre as a tool for change within ourselves as individuals, and ultimately for ourselves as a society….

And despite Theatre Ad Infinitum’s incredible use of the form to carry such a heavy story, I can’t seem to be able to articulate how I feel about it. (yet. maybe eventually I will). To be honest, that is very rare for me and I hate it.

Still I felt in necessary to jot down what thoughts I have had, as an ode to Nir and the team. Apologies as I fumble through this blog post.

Ballad of the Burning Star is a show about Israel and Palestine from the viewpoint/experience of an Israeli boy called Israel, who was living in a village amongst the occupation. It sounds so frighteningly simple when putting it like that, which, is in complete juxtaposition to the frighteningly complex nature of the  personal, social and political experience of the conflict itself. I should know. (more details on that later)

I have seen the company once before performing their incredible show, Translunar Paradise – a stunning show about loss and grief performed through mime. What is so wonderful about Theatre Ad Infinitum, is that (from my perspective anyway) the form comes through the theme/story they want to explore, rather than the other way around. What happens when we lose something we love? What happens when we grieve? We are silent. Quiet. What does mime do? Exactly that. Let us see and experience emotion through the silence. (By the way, I came out of that show in floods of tears. I came out of this one in even more).

So of course, with Ballad (…) so much of it’s effectiveness as a show comes through the form. We meet ‘Star’ – this drag queen, cabaret goddess who tells us this story of Israel’s experience with the aid of 5 (AMAZINGLY TONED) dancers. It’s brash, it’s in-yer-face, it’s disturbing, but in all of it’s fucked up glory it puts us in the right space to have a deep and genuine engagement with a subject matter that is hard to approach, whilst providing the cast with the necessary distance to not go absolutely crazy after a run of shows. The drag gives Nir the mask he needs to be able to say the things he clearly needs to say. Genius.

I loved the use of dance/physical theatre throughout – a literal representation of an endurance performance – a physical representation of the struggle of a combat soldier completing his national service, a metaphoric representation from the exhaustive nature of the internal debate about the conflict.

And those moments where you just begin to feel like it’s a bit too much – they break the performance with some humour, or a moment where the cabaret cast step outside of their ‘characters’ – it’s just, just brilliant.

But something odd happened.

In some strange twist of fate, Nir, dressed up as Star, hands ME, the one who’s middle name is Kohava (Star), the Israeli, the one who speaks Hebrew, the one whose cousins were combat soldiers, the one who remembers the exact moment when the cafe down the road from her house got bombed, the one who heard the sirens as a child and huddled into the shelter room and decorated her gas mask bomb.

He hands me a yellow star. No, he puts a yellow star on my chest.

What a strange, strange coincidence that I sat where I did.

Anyway that’s as far as I’ve got with this. Thoughts/additional discussion always welcome. Go see this show – it’s running till the 8 March.





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