Stardust (Pleasance Dome: 1-27 Aug: 16:20: 60 mins)

“Entertains and enlightens”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

While, to many, the Fringe is a place to be entertained, it is also a place to be challenged and to learn something new. I’m not ashamed to say that before watching Stardust I knew very little about the country of Columbia. And that my knowledge extended barely any further than the stereotype it has garnered for being the home of cocaine – another subject about which my knowledge was paltry. Step up, then, this part-documentary, part one-man-theatrical-masterclass which entertains and enlightens on both counts.

In entering the space, performer Miguel Hernando Torres Umba gives each audience member a warm welcome and entrusts a select few to look after mysterious boxes, which go on to become significant parts of the show (nothing scary!). The mood set is one of familiarity and friendship as Umba then explains his Columbian heritage and the purpose of the show he has created as artistic director of Blackboard Theatre.

What follows is a whistle-stop tour through the history of cocaine, how it has become a multi-million pound (and very dangerous) industry, and the wider effects this industry has around the world. With very imaginative use of audience interaction, projections, sound, contemporary dance and many other devices besides, it’s certainly a feat in creative communication. Yet while each section is captivating and powerful, the connection between them often comes across as a little disparate and scrappy, working against the relaxed and open atmosphere at the heart of this show. The game show element in particular is engaging and fun, though rattled through almost too quickly to get the most out of it, and then we’re on to a different aspect of the story.

The joy of this performance, though, is driven by the passion and personality of Umba. His likeability and charm make the learning very enjoyable, and his honesty and communication style are very engaging without going over the top. He shows himself to be adept at multiple performance styles within the piece and knowledgeable and authoritative about his subject.

Overall, Stardust is a well-thought out and compelling discussion, though disappointingly (albeit achingly honestly) leaves a bittersweet taste as there appears to be no resolution or obvious path forward. Well worth watching to learn a few facts about Columbia’s biggest export, though.


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

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