Life is a cabaret, old chum

Ballad of the Burning Star – Theatre Ad Infinitum @ the Battersea Arts Centre then touring (details)

Or, in homage to the style of the evening, how do you solve a problem like the occupied territories?

There is no doubt that Theatre Ad Infinitum’s new production, first seen at Edinburgh and subsequently taking the old-fashioned route of touring the country before pitching up for an extended stay at the Battersea Arts Centre, takes on contentious subject matter.

That the story is told through a drag queen and her cabaret troupe is a fun but rather unsurprising mechanism. Once a radical device, these days it does serve as a useful alienation device and, in the case of Ballad ofThe Starlets in Ballad of the Burning Starthe Burning Star, the issues remain so sensitive that it is critical for depoliticising the very act of storytelling.

The events we hear are shocking but if told as straight narrative then perspectives of the characters would be caught in the surrounding context and events discarded as being irrevocably biased. Or alternatively the play would try so hard to capture both positions that the value of the final product is fundamentally undermined.

We are told this story by MC Star and her Starlets, and through this prism the story is seen to unfold in a Brechtian manner. At no point is there any expectation that what is being seen are to be understood as real Israelis or Palestinians, the audience is reminded throughout that they are being shown representations of a family, and representations of real events.

Theatre-Ad-Infinitum-Ballad-of-the-Burning-Star-∏-Alex-Brenner-please-credit-_DSC82911-1024x763This allows certain latitude to extract humour from the story, characters are able to step outside of their roles and comment on proceedings and it allows the development of a duality and tension between the increasingly autocratic Star and the actions of Israel in the occupied lands.

That Star is played by writer and director Nir Paldi hints of a biographical nature to the story, and throughout this feels like a passion project that has developed a life of its own. It is also embeds a sense of truth that often only comes from a person with first-hand experience and, in this case, has been at the sharp-end of the consequences of forty years of regional foreign policy.

Any story must be understood within the context of its creation. The story of Israel, the lead character in the show, like so many narratives around the state of Israel, must be understood within the context and implication of the wider story of Jewish history.

Israel, the character, and Israel, the state, are separate individuals but share such a common history that the two must constantly struggle to be separated. The state and the individual share the collective memory of the Holocaust and the legacy of the historical persecution of the Jews through Europe and the Middle East is reinforced to create a state of mind of defensiveness. Both individual and state cannot be understood without understanding this context.

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