Guest Blog: Adrian Berry on David Bowie and FROM IBIZA TO THE NORFOLK BROADS

By: Oct. 03, 2016

As we get closer to the opening of my production, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, I have begun to re-examine David Bowie and his relationship with theatre. It's a curious and fascinating subject to explore. The usual lazy headlines about Bowie tend to focus on bisexuality, drugs, reinvention, promiscuity, and more recently dreadful and invasive rumours about his passing. However, those that love him know David was so much more - a writer, painter, auteur, and innovator. The best pop star the world has ever seen.

Yet it was theatre that was one of his earliest loves. He was taken to the old Brixton variety halls with his beloved half-brother Terry as a child, and in his earliest interviews he expressed his desire to write musicals and began singing only because he couldn't get anyone to sing his songs on stage for him. Fast-forward to Lazarus, in 2016, in London and his dream has finally come true, and best of all he got to see it before he left this world.

Bowie's fascination with theatre was enduring, from his early days training as a mime with Lindsay Kemp (who famously tried to get Bowie to play the lead in Puss in Boots!) through to his astonishing Broadway performance of The Elephant Man, which pre-dated David Lynch's movie version with John Hurt by several years.

During his time living in New York, a city he loved so much, he would venture out to art houses and little Off-Broadway theatres, going incognito and unnoticed, immersing himself in new writing, obscure avant-garde performance, and work from new directors and budding producers.

Bowie always remained fresh and relevant because he kept up to date, with his ear to the ground, sniffing out new talent and tastes. So it was no surprise that his final work - alongside the brilliant Blackstar album - was a stunning contemporary theatrical work in a cool, minimalist setting, at a tiny fringe theatre, rather than a run-of-the-mill, star-studded jukebox musical on Broadway. We would not have expected anything less.

And so here we are, and here I am, with my own homage to David Bowie - From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads. David read (and I believe liked) an early version of the play some time ago, and a version of it was seen in Edinburgh and London with his kind support and blessing. But today we have ripped it up and started again. It shares the same actor and title, some of the themes remain, but virtually nothing that David read back then is still there.

I wonder what he'd think of it now were he to read it. Its premise, of a sick teenage boy who journeys on an adventure in Bowie's footsteps to find the truth about his family, is one that differs from so many of the tributes and shows which exist, or have been produced before. In some ways it has parallels with his own Lazarus in that, although David Bowie is present throughout, it is not really about him. We dip in and out of his early life, and look at the effect he has had (and still has) over people, the cultural impact and shockwaves he sent through a conservative world that needed shaking up.

However, the overall sense within the narration, underscoring and design is that he is there throughout, although mostly invisible, and that his presence is felt from start to finish. I like to think he would have loved our little show.

Myself and actor Alex Walton have really immersed ourselves in Bowie's world over the past year. We've been on walking tours of his early London, revisited his childhood haunts, spoken to his friends, fans, writers, researchers, pored over his words and trudged in the imprints of the soles of his shoes. It has been a fascinating journey for us so far, with many laughs and tears. It is now time to set From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads free, for the world to see.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is at Waterloo East Theatre 18 October-6 November

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