“I have always been associated with cocaine,” says Colombian actor Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, as he racks up a line of bicarbonate of soda. Stardust is a hard-hitting exploration of the human cost of cocaine production, merging humour with impassioned speech – whilst making a wider political point about stereotyping, the war on drugs and minority.
Ashamedly, Stardust caught my eye as a Narcos-esque thriller about the Columbian drug trade: exactly the type of associations that Blackboard Theatre are trying to dissolve. As much a critique of Western consumerism, ignorance and “patronising liberals” as it is of the violence and destruction caused by the drug trade, Stardust encourages the audience to question their morals and begin an open and honest dialogue about the story behind cocaine.
Stardust is both a stunning one-man performance, and a multi-disciplinary hybrid: it features audience participation, performance lecture, animated projection, physical theatre, monologue and comedy. Merging styles makes for a play which doesn’t falter at any moment – it’s fast-paced, engaging, and different at each turn.
Umba’s energy and charisma transform him into various characters to suit each of these styles, culminating in stunning physical theatre interludes when his emotion is realised. Behind standing screens, onto which visuals and animated drawings are projected, Umba dances backstage as a beautiful, translucent shadow.
Not only visually interesting, Daniel Dingsdale’s script embodies successful satire. It is funny and truthful, balancing information and entertainment, drawing on Trump, colonialism and various other Western offences, all within the framework of the drug trade. The script is well researched, heartfelt, and above all not patronising. It assumes a certain degree of knowledge about the monstrosities behind the drug trade, and rather than demonise or cast judgement with unhelpful “drugs are bad” rhetoric, Stardust raises wider questions in an affecting way – in a manner which stays with the audience long after they leave the theatre.
It’s easy to envision a future for this piece –Stardust would work fantastically at colleges and sixth forms, especially in moments when the audience participation feels a little silly for its mainly middle-aged audience.
Umba tells us that blame is pointless, that guilt and shame are unhelpful, but rather that it's time to start a conversation and spark change from the actions of individuals. A highly entertaining, important and cleanly executed piece, Stardust is what the best theatre is about – making positive political change.