Ballad of the Burning Star
Tolmen Centre, Constantine
Review by Lee Trewhela
IT STARTED in such a frivolous way - a drag queen picking on members of the audience, with musical backing from her accompanist, Camp David.
Ninety minutes later, however, stunned clapping shattered the silence of the powerful, emotionally draining final scene of this hugely compelling show.
This largely autobiographical performance - though how much is real or fiction is for him to know - is the work of actor, writer and director Nir Paldi.
He stars as abrasive Israeli drag act Star, who then introduces his Starlettes, five incredibly talented singers, actress and dancers from across the globe.
The story of young Israel and his family in a Jewish ghetto surrounded by Palestinian settlements is played out with all its victimhood and bullying, love and death. The medium of cabaret makes it just that little bit easier to take, though the comedy soon gives way to tears, and the songs are just as likely to be about Jewish persecution through the centuries as they are about how it's always sunny in Israel.
Star is quick to remove herself from the performance to admonish the backing troupe - an obvious metaphor for Israel's bullying of Palestine. Paldi doesn't take sides and sympathises with a people without the freedom to come and go as they please, even if one of them blew his character's brother up on a bus.
As the show becomes ever more tense, Star's mask cracks to reveal a person who has not only seen horrors but perpetrated them too.
Ballad of the Burning Star is a very personal story but one that also neatly explains the century-old conflict between Jew and Arab.
Hats off to the Tolmen Centre - the most forward-thinking of venues in Cornwall - for again being brave enough to book challenging theatre, which would be unlikely to find a home elsewhere in the county.
It's a coup for the Tolmen that it is part of a tour that also sees Bristol Old Vic and Battersea Arts Centre on its itinerary.