The Lowry, Salford 04 February 2017
Andie Scott’s stage set – costumes worn by the late David Bowie suspended along the walls in translucent covering – makes one assume that From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is going to be a tribute act. Got that wrong – although The Thin White Duke is an essential element Adrian Berry’s play is a harrowing and riveting study of a mind that is, well, under pressure.
Martin (sole performer Alex Walton) has problems. To compensate for the loss of his father (who left when Martin was two years old) and his mother’s alcoholism he has developed anorexia and also self-harms. Martin is also an obsessive; a trait that he shares with his absent father who worshiped David Bowie. Developing a mania for Bowie helps Martin feel close to his father and he is stunned when, on his eighteenth birthday, a note from his absent parent sends him on a quest around landmarks of relevance to his hero.
David Bowie was famous for performing as, or hiding behind, fictional characters. From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads takes a darker approach to people pursuing different identities. Adrian Berry is concerned with those people who aspire to, or fantasise about, matching Bowie’s achievements but lack his talent. It touches on the tricky subject of how to live a fulfilling life when it is not the one about which you daydream. There is plaintive, yearning edge to the play as Martin’s quest fails to live up to his hopes and constantly produces disappointing results. In a telling scene Martin performs a Bowie song on karaoke dancing around lost in his fantasy and oblivious to the fact that his voice is not adequate to hit the high notes.
Berry could not have wished for a better interpreter of his script than Alex Walton. On the surface Walton presents Martin as clinging and horribly needy; his stick thin body twisting and turning as he seeks comfort. But Walton digs deep below the surface to touch upon the bewildered sense of being hurt that lies at Martin’s core. It is a blazing and deeply moving performance.
As director, Berry sets a disturbing dreamlike tone. An uncannily accurate impersonation of Bowie’s voice (by comedian Rob Newman of all people) echoes around the theatre. When Martin describes the areas through which he is travelling his sense of his own identity is so limited that the filmed images that flicker across the walls are in black and white as if he is invoking Bowie’s childhood rather than his own.
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads achieves two of the things that Bowie managed throughout his career – it confounds expectations to be a complete surprise and is of very high quality.
Reviewer: David Cunningham