Vault Festival’s array of new productions continues with another solo show: Stardust, performed and devised by Miguel Hernando Torres Umbra and his company, Blackboard Theatre, with writing by Daniel Dingsdale. Stardust, which first debuted at the Southwark Playhouse last year as part of CASA Festival, takes a long look into the production of cocaine, its effects on the world and particularly on Colombia, the manufacturer of the overwhelming majority of it, and all of our complicity in it.
It’s a dazzling show, with animation by Diana Garcia and video graphics by Sofi Lee Henson which take up the whole stage, ambitious and eloquent for a relatively small production. Careful attention is paid to the sacred origins of the coca plant to indigenous peoples for centuries in Colombia, and the monochrome animation expands to enfold Torres Umbra within it before our eyes. Stardust switches gears instantly, from a mock-gameshow in which a terribly unwilling member of the audience decides how to further their own trade and become a leading drug baron, to a personal story shared by a friend of Torres Umbra, delivered with respect and the pause in the frantic tone it deserves.
Some of the audience were oddly traditionalist, whistling and whooping upon Torres Umbra don a (fittingly white) pollera colora for this part, but his sincerity soon made them silent. He is a perfect figure at the centre of this, with energy to spare, charisma and physical competence. He wipes desperately at himself to get the ‘mark’ of the trade off him, so people don’t see it when they meet him, so every Colombian can have more of a chance, and it is very affecting. Though the numerous technical cues, throughout which the show rests heavily upon, at times aren’t always punctual or at the right volume or intensity, he carries the performance on, and his approach is always truthful, never shying away from any of the ugliness.
Stardust isn’t perhaps as tight as it could be: the gameshow segment would likely be more smooth with a less quiet audience member brought up, and arguably even more awkwardness could be laid onto the audience, because we’re all responsible for changing this, as or more responsible than the Colombians are, as Torres Umbra points out. But instead he ends the show on a hopeful note, sensitive to the need for empathy and a real connection with each other if we are to see what we put others through with casual use, and if we are to change the status quo. Applause was the very least we could offer.
Stardust is playing at The Vault Festival until 25 February 2018
Photo: Alex Brenner