Q&A with Nir Paldi, from Battersea Arts Centre production Ballad of the Burning Star
Theatre Ad Infinitum’s new work Ballad of the Burning Star was a huge success at EdFringe 2013.
Now the company is taking Ballad on its first UK tour, starting on 30 January.
Co-artistic director, Israeli-born Nir Paldi, is writer, director and co-performer of the company’s first politically themed, acerbically funny piece of work. He spoke with Alexandra Rucki.
Alexandra Rucki: What was your motivation for writing Ballad of the Burning Star?
Nir Paldi: I wanted to explore the identity crisis facing my homeland, Israel. As Jewish Israelis, we're brought up on the belief that we are always persecuted, that all non-Jews are against us and that a second holocaust is about to erupt at any moment.
In Israel, the victim identity is present everywhere you turn, but what is rarely talked about is the fact that Israel has become an occupier - that we are also the persecutors.
This leaves Israelis feeling a deep-rooted discord between being the victim, historically, and being the persecutor, in a modern day reality. I wanted to share this complex human situation with the audience. I find the everlasting cycle of victim-persecutor fascinating, tragic, and so very human.
AR: Is the play autobiographical?
NP: No, strictly speaking it's not. It's semi-autobiographical. Some of the stories are based on things that happened to me, some of them are true stories that happened to other people, but with a slight dramatisation - a push to the extreme. Other stories are historical events that I've incorporated into the character's life.
AR: It seems very different from the work that Theatre Ad Infinitum has created before?
NP: We’re experimenting with styles that are new to us: cabaret, drag, chorus, it’s our first mid-to-large scale production, and our most ambitious project to date. Ballad is also dealing with dark and political themes we’ve not touched upon before. It feels like it’s the right direction for us to take at this stage, and a very exciting risk.
AR: What excites you most about this production as a piece of theatre?
NP: We’ve found a theatrical language which will let the audience experience the violence, the dark humour, the unpredictability, the love of a family, loss, laughter, and pain/heartache - things that are everyday norms in the Middle East.
We have created a style that, we hope, is sophisticated enough to accommodate the complexity of the situation it's trying to deal with. The play creates a multilayered style, with three narratives being told in parallel and things are never what they seem.
AR: What audience reaction are you hoping the production will get from the tour?
NP: The reaction from the Edinburgh audience was mind-blowing. It provoked discussion and debate, just as we’d hoped. For the tour - well, I want people to leave the theatre feeling thrilled, captivated and excited by the theatrical experience they went through, but also disturbed by what the piece is dealing with, by the reality I grew up with and one that still persists today. I'm hoping that somewhere within the darkness of this piece, people will be able to find some hope as well.
Ballad of the Burning Star, Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, February 17 to March 8 7.30pm £15, £12 concs www.bac.org.uk
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