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Ballad of the Burning Star
Published on Sunday, 25 August 2013

4 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
31 Jul, 1-12, 14-19, 21-26 Aug, 5:15pm-6:35pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

It's a near-impossible task to approach Israeli-Palestinian relations in theatre, and come away from the experience positively. But if anyone can, it’s Theatre Ad Infinitum – who put themselves on the Fringe watch-list with their five-star 2011 and 2012 offering, Translunar Paradise. This year, they've managed to attract attention again with a look at the Middle East conflict though the lens of (yes, really) a drag show.

Ballad of the Burning Star tells the story of Israel – a young boy who turns from protagonist to villain, over an hour and twenty minutes that combine high-energy dance and song with moving anecdotes of death and destruction. The show is narrated by Nir Paldi as 'Star', together with her stunning chorus cast, The Starlets. Music is provided by the hysterically-named 'Camp David' – a single man who is about as camp as Bill Clinton.

At the very beginning, we’re told to memorise the nearest emergency exit in the likely case of a terrorist attack... which is undoubtedly the most dramatic, attention-grabbing start to a show I've experienced. I sat enthralled with the tongue-in-cheek introduction, expecting a sharp, witty and hard-hitting show. And that’s essentially exactly what I got. Perhaps the most impressive part of this entire production was The Starlets; they deserve special mention for showing the most stamina I've seen in any performance this August. All of them were supreme.

Unfortunately, at 80 minutes long, the show lags in places. Obviously theatre needs light and shade – quiet moments, to match the intensity of the climactic scenes and slick choreography. For me though, Ballad of the Burning Star went too far, feeling self-indulgent at times. Having said that, Paldi certainly has a great sense of her audience’s mood; these awkwardly long scenes were always brought back from the brink by a moment of well-placed hilarity, that managed, rather amazingly, to never cross the line into being totally inappropriate.

Wit aside, Ballad of the Burning Star is supremely moving, without being simperingly apologetic or preachy about its subject matter. It actually provides quite a balanced view of tragedy on both sides. It doesn't seek to solve any problems – a Fringe theatre show would be stupid to attempt to do so. But within its quips about men pushing red buttons and the duality of the Israeli lifestyle, there's a very moving message about the futility of conflict and violence. Moments after the audience is in stitches over Star channelling Simon Cowell and verbally abusing her performers, we are asked to consider whether a death in a Holocaust gas chamber means more than one on the Gaza Strip. 

So it's a rollercoaster of a ride, and if you like your theatre daring, energetic and controversial, you'll love this. This might just be the epitome of the Fringe experience; it's certainly something you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Love it or hate it, you surely won't forget it.

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