Review: STARS – An Afrofuturist Space Odyssey ★★★★★
It’s turning into the year of Mojisola Adebayo – and this latest from the acclaimed theatremaker is a gold-plated, Afrofuturist barnstormer.
STARS – An Afrofuturist Space Odyssey | ICA | Until 4 May | From £15
If the writing of Mojisola Adebayo wasn’t on your radar before, 2023 is here to put that right. The excellent Family Tree is currently at Brixton House (and then touring until mid-June), and GDIF have just announced immersive theatrical journey The Architect (conceived by Adebayo along with Roy Williams and Matthew Xia) as part of its programme later in the summer.
Now and until 4th May, Tamasha – co-producing with the ICA – present Adebayo’s STARS, a music play which builds to an inspirational, empowering crescendo. Essentially a one woman play which unfolds against a soundtrack DJ’d live on stage, STARS is a showcase for Adebayo’s poetic call-to arms and performer Debra Michaels’ powerhouse, mostly solo performance.
Without spoiling the joy of experiencing this cosmic-yet-grounded story revealing itself with impeccable pacing, suffice to say that Michaels plays a woman in search of the orgasm she’s never experienced. Will she really have to leave the planet to achieve her dream, or might she learn from the experiences of others whose bodily autonomy has been threatened by oppressive patriarchy and small-minded prejudice?
Unfairly (for the most part), one person shows can suffer the consequences of a somewhat crummy reputation – and it is true that 90 minutes in the hands of one performer requires that performer to be at the top of their game. Adebayo’s script, tricksy and playful with multiple characters, gives Michaels all the ammunition she needs to produce theatrical fireworks – enough so to hold the audience enraptured against the audio backdrop of intergalactic, spaced-out music from artists like Sun Ra, Jamila Woods, Floating Points, and more.
Are we allowed one supremely minor quibble in a five star review? Well, we make the rules around here, so yes we are! Perhaps the music was a millionth of a percent too loud… On the other hand, the music is a big part of the STARS experience – this is, after all, a music play, pretty much as immersive and all-encompassing as a straightforwardly staged piece of proscenium theatre can be.
Regardless, Debra Michaels is more than up to the challenge of making her voice, and that of her multiple characters, heard loud and clear. And what words she speaks – cleverly (unobtrusively, but playfully) projected onto the back screen along with some beautiful animation. Special mention, also, to the lighting design (yes, we’re getting technical) of Nao Nagai – when this stuff works you’re not supposed to notice it, but it still deserves credit!
As the climax is reached, a celebratory atmosphere fills the ICA’s performance space – it’s a call to action, a call to the power of self-expression and self-love, and an instance that the rest of the night should be danced away! Thankfully, performances on 22nd and 29th April merge seamlessly into club nights.
A stunning piece of theatre, engagingly directed by Gail Babb and S. Ama Wray, which reminds us of the ICA’s past theatrical glories – long live live performance at the ICA!
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