Aug 11-19, 21-27 (16:20)
Everyone has an opinion on cocaine from the police officer on the front lines of the war on drugs to the casual recreational user to the repentant former addict but what we don’t often get to hear is the opinion of those it directly effects: the peoples who’s communities and families are shaped by its produce. “Stardust” is a show with that at it’s very heart but before you head for the hills fearful of some worthy lesson in blame shaming this show has far more to offer than mere edutainment. Our genial host is the diminutive Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, A Colombian national who has been living on these shores for over 11 years yet who still clearly feels a passionate attachment to his homeland.
His first admission to the crowd is that he has never actually taken cocaine and he would like to know more about it. This is a chance for the audience to test/share their knowledge whilst the faux naive Miguel wrestles with the dilemma of whether to try the cocaine provided for him by his producer – a running theme throughout the show. It soon becomes apparent that Miguel is quite the expert on the topic after all as he leads us through a fantastical journey into the dark heart of the cocaine industry something he acknowledges it is “impossible to ignore” in Colombia. Beginning with an exploration of the sacred rights of the coca plant by his Shamanic ancestors he takes us on a rip roaring exploration of the Cocaine trade, its ties to the colonial past and its uncertain future taking in the experiences of drug mules, Cocaine barons and weekend warriors along the way.
Miguel is a charming, self-effacing host who uses his excellent skills as a physical performer to bring elements of mime and dance into his story with mesmerising effect. It was impossible to take my eyes off him as he threw himself into the role of the cocaine user riding the high then crashing into the low, his small, wiry body twisting and contorting into the ecstasies of pleasure and the agonising pain of the comedown with a frantic, gurning, hot-stepping performance. At one point whilst demonstrating a traditional shamanic ceremony he literally steps into the animation too. It is a magical moment which combined with the beautiful black and white imagery- all swirling snakes and rustling trees – transports us into a distant past of folklore and myth.
As well as the expressive animation historical film footage is used sparingly which is particularly effective during the section on colonialism. Music and voice over also play their part to create a perfect synthesis of sound and vision throughout the show utilising various traditional musics to great effect. The use of audience participation too brings lashings of humour to the show as Miguel involves members in a mock game show, demonstrates the effects of cocaine on an apple or in one moving section breaks down the barriers between audience and performer entirely.
By the end of the show it is apparent to all of us what a deeply personal subject this is for Miguel. His passionate delivery, deep understanding and emotional honesty about the topic of cocaine use have allowed us to all to understand better the direct effects of this most unscrupulous and unregulated of businesses on the lives of those involved in it. Both unapologetically personal and unafraid to explore the areas in which we are all complicit I doubt anyone in the audience will look at the ‘white devil’ in quite the same way and many will indeed think twice before bugling with Charlie again.