Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Ballad of the Burning Star

Theatre Ad Infinitum

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: Pleasance Dome


Low Down

Multi-award winning physical theatre company Theatre Ad Infinitum return to the Fringe with "an explosive tale. Armed with music, killer heels and a lethal troop of divas, an enraged Israeli executes a story of victimhood, persecution, aggression and love. With shrapnel, sharp voices and moves as smooth as an oiled tank chain, this cabaret troop invites you on a journey into the core of a conflicted Jewish state."


Theatre Ad Infinitum, past winners of a FringeReview Outstanding Theatre Award for Translunar Paradis, bring a world premiere of their new production, conceived and performed by Nir Paldi, a supporting chorus cast, and a live musician on stage called "Camp David"!
This is documentary cabaret theatre loaded with irony and tragedy, full of cutting humour and a very specific attempt to show different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is much evocation here – the mood of the times, the fear of explosion, destruction of loved ones, and also of repetition – the repetition of pogrom, of genocide. Life in Israel is no picnic. Life in one of the "settlements" is portrayed with tension and danger. The ability to change era, tempo, mood and style is striking and powerful in a production that couldn’t appear more different from their previous show here, Translunar Paradise. If you are looking for masks and the gentleness of old age, you’ll be disappointed. A lot of people assume that Translunar Paradise represents the core flavour of their work. Not so – this is a company that delights in diversity, experimentation with form, and change. Just look at Theatre Ad Infinitum’s past repertoire.
So, this is not Translunar Paradise, yet there’s something of a signature here: the interplay of time and drawing of parallels between past and present, the use of tragicomic humour, the ability to play with sudden stillness, with reaction. Oh, and brilliant physical theatre.
Indeed, the physical work is pitch perfect and breathtaking in parts. What’s outstanding here is the boldness to blend punkish cabaret with intense touching drama. Stillness is suddenly born from almost manic chorus frenetic energy. The chorus breaks out  into individual character set piece monologues, which transform again, just as suddenly, into collective song and movement. There’s no air of predictability here. In places it feels madcap, emotionally explosive; in other places there’s a comedy of form, a break away from structure into an improv style; in other places we have tightly designed structure and delivered song and dance routine. Oh, and there’s beat poetry too!
We are informed (sometimes a bit too much info spills over the narrative), we are taken into the life of a growing Israeli boy, Israel, whose name and personal story is a micro reflection of the macro situation. We are shown different sides of a mileu in what is essentially a technosophic performance – technique is used in different ways to show us this complex situation from different angles.
We have the story of child, father and grandmother. We have Holocaust in the Then and in how it still plays out in the Now. We have individual and collective view. We are passive onlookers into the story delivered through theatre, movement and dance and then the fourth wall is torn down with relish by our host and we are involved in a cabaret. And even then the very form of theatre itself is ripped away and the character comments on the performance we are watching, berating performers for undermining even the very show they are supposed to be delivering.
Walls come down and the whole spectacle becomes a kind of physical and spatial prototype of what needs to happen in the forthcoming peace talks taking place in the Middle East – we need to undermine old forms, tear down walls and even be prepared to comment on our own commenting. Very few companies are doing this on the Fringe (though you might want to compare this work to Theatre Movement Bazaar, also at the Fringe again this year).
Nir Paldi is our noir, charismatic cabaret host. Wilkommen and Shalom to a journey into the troubled history of Israel and Palestine. Music, dance, physical theatre and vocal rhythm evoke the pain and the conflict, the heartbreaking tragedy of an impulsive act born of terror and confusion.
Tight ensemble work built around set piece rhythm carries a storytelling based narrative into outstanding territory. Here we have a chorus that sings, dances, moves, acts, and then suddenly shatters into its constituent parts – individual characters, who form apsects of the unfolding story. Paldi is the central character, holding the narrative in place, the host of a twisted cabaret that leaps along the line of polarity between peace and fracturing war.
It isn’t always easy to hear clearly in the space, and the acoustics need a bit of attention. But the sheer diversity of form, the split second timing of some of the ensemble physical work, will be hard to match here on the Fringe and even beyond.
This  ‘ballad’ is monologue, music and movement creates and recreates the living and present folklore of the contemporary Israeli story. Past – recent and ancient – plays into the Now. We are shown the strong duality of Arab and Israeli difference and the tragedy of two peoples who, at different times in history have tilled the very same soil. Echoes of Auschwitz resound into the present of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the barbed wires fenced settlements the new ironic ghettos.
Taking marvellous creative liberties with the foms of theatre, cabaret, musical and storytelling, the narrative leaps from the trains to the camps of the Second World War to the polarised conflict in the present, this organised chaos is achieved through designed, stellar conception and performance. By offering we, the audience, a thread of continuity in the narrative iin the form of  the character of a boy called Israel, we are never lost for long. 
This is an outstanding production – outstanding because its brash use of storytelling is fused into a punk cabaret that captures the unhinged nature of the conflict and of living in the settlements. Its use of physical theatre, (well chosen) live music, sound, monologue, documentary drama, comedy, chorus and cabaret make for a unique piece of explosive percformance that avoids chaos with deft steps – the steps of a company that more than knows what it is about. Charisma overflows and only occasionally threatens to drown. The expertly chosen moments of silence amid a show full of frenetic pace, varying tempo, story and documentary delivered through verse, song and movement, all create a synergy – and what emerges is a lasting, affecting and effective theatre event.
I was drawn in at the start. I wondered if I were about to be confused and disappointed. By the end, I felt a bit blown apart and needing to reflect.
Outstanding work again from Theatre Ad Infinitum


Show Website

 Theatre Ad Infinitum