★★★ | Ballad of the Burning Star – National Tour
Glamorous drag queen, Star, invites you to join her on a cabaret filled journey into the heart of the Middle East. Armed with a pair of killer heels, a deadly troupe of dancers and a handful of stories from both sides of the conflict, you are taken on a journey like no other to examine the individuals, families and communities who find themselves in the Ballad of the Burning Star is undeniably a bold piece of theatre. Credit is due to anyone who attempts to explain the complexities of the Middle East conflict via the medium of Cabaret, using a drag queen, a Star of David mirror ball, a musician called “Camp David” and a troupe of military dressed Diva’s. It was also undeniably confrontational, never shying away from its explosive, in your face style and being uncompromising in its portrayal of both sides of the conflict. It is equally bold in its physical, stripped back presentation – it is a show which stands on its own two feet, without the need for a set, props or a multitude of elaborate costumes.
There were a number of very good ideas contained within the piece and as you peel back the layers, you begin to realise what an incredibly smart piece of writing this is. The way in which Star vacillates between caring host and dictator-like dominator of the Starlets, the way in which taboos are openly challenged, and the almost military precision drills of the dance routines are all reflective of the subject matter of the piece, and make the point with a sarcastic overtone and dark undertone. There is also the way in which the story comes full circle, how the events culminate at the end and how the circular narrative of the piece mirrors why the ongoing conflict still rages.
But unfortunately, it the show never comes together in a way which allows it to reach the full potential of those good ideas. There were a number of aspects of the production which pulled it down – the almost identical troupe of Starletts playing different roles within the story led to poorly defined characters which were not always easy to identify during the narrative. The choreography became very repetitive very quickly and the majority of the presentation was reduced to nothing more than people shouting loudly, wailing or screeching at each other, which led to the loss of any actual dramatic impact. But as the closing lines of the show were delivered (in complete contrast to what had gone before and in a very powerful way) you realise what this show perhaps could have been with a little more restraint.
That said, whilst not being particularly impressed upon immediately leaving the theatre, this show has really stayed with me for the last few days and for some reason, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. The more I have thought about it, the more I have realised what a clever piece of theatre this really was. It is just a real shame that the constant shouting and screaming undermined the value of the subject matter and the presentation of what was actually a very powerful, thought provoking, inventive and intelligent piece of theatre.
Ballad of the Burning Star is now on national tour. Further information, details of the tour and booking details can be found at http://www.theatreadinfinitum.co.uk/productions/ballad-of-the-burning-star