STARS: An Afrofuturist Space Odyssey @ Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Review

Easily the best play I’ve seen this year, STARS is orgasmic in that it’s joyous, sensational and you really don’t want it to end. Mojisola Adebayo is giving us queer, working class, postcolonial, feminist afro-futuristic theatre, a genre I didn’t think could exist, but this is what this play is capable of, new frontiers and my goodness is it delightfully radical too. I savoured every second, from the moment I sank into the beanbags at the ICA to the musical interludes directed by Debo Adebayo. You can watch the sibling duo here chatting through their influences growing up and the vision behind creating STARS, “a concept album on stage” born on a night out in Dublin.

The story is told from the point of view of Mrs, played by Debra Michaels, an 80-year-old mixed race woman from South-East London searching for her lost orgasm in outer space. The audience were enthralled with Michaels’ performance. We loved her in all her different roles. I couldn’t tell you who my favourite character was, I’m torn between Mrs, the lonely kid next door Mariam and the hilarious Misti with the big clit. On her quest for an orgasm, Mrs encounters stories that tie in with sexuality in some shape and form. Although most of the action takes place in Mrs’s kitchen through the characters we encounter, it feels like The Canterbury Tales of sex, exploration and identity.

“Intersex? Yeah, I’m into sex.” You’ve heard of Brexit but what about the latest government programme Spexit? Being ineligible for anything after the age of 25. Men coming into launderettes with black bin bags. Paying for the Mirror when the metro is free coz “Quality, Mary”. The gags are effortless and free flowing, all delivered by the completely earnest Mrs, a woman channelling the nation’s sweetheart comedians Sarah Millican and Miranda Hart.

I spoke with the playwright following the show and she was quite open about the challenges she’s faced putting on this play, quoting one artistic director who questioned why an 80-year-old woman would be interested in having an orgasm (shocking I know). Older women of colour get side-lined if not completely erased in London theatre while old white men get to age gracefully under the limelight. I would have thought theatre programmers would have learnt their lesson with Adjoa Andoh’s Richard II back in 2019 but the good fight continues. I am glad to note by Andoh (currently touring Richard III) and Adebayo. A show you don’t want to miss for making theatre history and making you dance and giggle like no woman’s business.

The play is also pioneering on another level. By integrating the use of music and digital art by Candice PurwinSTARS creates a whole other kind of experience that feels radical for a theatre company. It’s refreshing to see theatre makers experiment with other disciplines to modernise the live experience of theatre. The direction is considered and feels deeply embedded alongside the text and research that makes the play.

My only complaint is that there’s so many layers of meaning and references I can’t keep up and am compelled to watch the play a second time. Thankfully I’ve been gifted the play text so I can explore the complexity of the masterful storytelling at my own pace.

Written by Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.

Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tasnimsiddiqaamin & WordPress.

On until Thursday 4Th May at the iconic ICA in Central London before touring Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool in May-June. To find out more about the production, visit here…


Written by Theatrefullstop