Edinburgh Festival: Ballad of the Burning Star (5 stars)

It’s highly likely someone will set off a bomb in this performance, we are told. There is almost definitely a terrorist in the audience.

Why?

Because that is what happens when Jewish people step outside their houses, gather in a public space or do pretty much anything at all: they get blown up. Are you sick of pro-Palestinian, drippy liberalism? Well, this vaudevillian cabaret, with a glittering Star of David in every corner, is here to reddress the balance. And, like all great satire, its biggest target is itself.

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s follow-up to their moving relationship drama about love and loss, Translunar Paradise, couldn’t be more poles apart if it had been produced by an entirely different company.

This a grandiose piece of Berlin-inspired cabaret hosted by writer and director Nir Paldi as “Star”, a fabulous but increasingly authoritarian drag queen in head-to-toe gold. In telling the story of the persecution of the Jews, she demonstrates the kind of racist, dictatorial behaviour that led to their persecution in the first place.

Her slickly choreographed dancing troupe, The Starlets, are bullied, taunted and repeatedly told they’re not good enough – as is an upbeat one-man band called Camp David (who, played by Adam Pleeth, is anything but camp).

In the middle of all the glitter is a story of three generations of an Israeli family, in particular a young boy called Israel (here, everyone is named after their country) and his journey from victim to perpetrator after his brother is killed by a bomb on a school bus. The story is a cliché familiar from many plays, films and TV dramas. However, it’s also a tragic truth – and what this piece of provocative razzamatazz does so thrillingly well is separate the one from the other. It asks whether repeating the same story, however painful, means that it never ends – which is, of course, is also a familiar tale, but the way it’s told makes it feel fresh, urgent and worth listening to again.

“Camp David, play the Nazi music,” Star demands, before anything gets too serious. The routines are simultaneously delightful and horrific: the never-ending history of the persecutions, the “inner conflict” number that asks whether a death in a concentration camp is worth more than one in Gaza. They eloquently and hilariously sum up all that is wrong with hanging onto the past while trying to form the future – and do so in a way that makes for a thrillingly edgy piece of entertainment.

Written for The Scotsman

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