Opening Night verdict –
It was, of course, the immortal allure of David Bowie that drew us like a siren’s call to ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’… an irresistible opportunity to hear his music; to listen to his voice (albeit brilliantly mimicked by comedian Rob Newman); to see his otherworldly face projected front and centre stage…
So, inhabiting protagonist Martin’s world – where Bowie shines perpetually like an ephemeral ‘Diamond Dog’ – takes no leap of the imagination at all. We first encounter him aged seventeen, and he is a broken bird of a boy: gripped by an eating disorder, he is prone to occasional self-harm and leads a reclusive, dead-end existence with his alcoholic mother.
Martin’s father left the family home when he was two years old, so when he stumbles across his estranged patriarch’s treasured collection of Bowie albums and memorabilia, an obsession is born.
On the morning of Martin’s eighteenth birthday, he is gifted an envelope; left to him by his erstwhile father, it contains a map of London that treads in Bowie’s footsteps.
Galvanised by the hope that it may ultimately lead to his father’s whereabouts, Martin scrapes together enough money to head to the capital – beginning his quest outside the wrought-iron gates of Stockwell Infants School, where David Robert Jones was the small boy with anisocoria eyes and a huge future…
First thing’s first, this is a ‘one-man show’ in the truest sense – a tour de force solo performance by the impressive Alex Walton [After the Blue, ISM, London Calling, Macbeth], who is seemingly inhabited by a cast of thousands. You see him morph from all-knowing narrator to angst-ridden teenager to wizened record store owner within seconds. Each character is as fully formed and believable as the last – leaving you with the impression of having been entertained by a whole company, rather than a single performer.
Walton’s emotional range is vast – taking him from an overexcited karaoke performer in a rough pub to the victim of an all-too-real panic attack in a greasy kebab house within minutes. (Anyone who has experienced crippling fear and breathlessness when anxiety strikes could find this a particularly triggering scene, although credit must be paid to him for a startlingly accurate portrayal.)
Curiously, although Bowie’s spectre engulfs the production from start to finish, anyone expecting a musical of smash hits is going to be sorely disappointed. His music is purely incidental – utilised to hint at Martin’s mental state, rather than a succession of rousing choruses taken from the hit parade. (Expect to hear snippets from Bowie’s more experimental side of his oeuvre.) Likewise, Set & Costume Designer Andie Scott delivers a pared-back aesthetic, which merely hints at Bowie – providing no more than window dressing to Walton’s considerable talent.
Writer & Director Adrian Berry (Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane Theatre in London) is to be especially praised for delivering a truly innovative narrative and production that is heart-breaking and humorous in equal measure, as well as avoiding all temptation to conclude with a definitive ending. Part of the great joy of this experience is walking away from the theatre and ruminating over what the final scenes mean for Martin, his father and the Thin White Duke himself.
Hugely acclaimed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – playing to sell-out audiences – the show is currently on tour nationally, with concluding performances at Jacksons Lane Theatre (6-10 March 2018). For tickets, click here.
Reviewed by Michelle Ewen