From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Waterloo East Theatre
20 October 2016
Meet Martin, a teenager with a long list of issues, from an eating disorder to an alcoholic mother, and an overwhelming obsession with David Bowie. On his eighteenth birthday, he receives a letter from his absent, equally Bowie-obsessed father, and a set of instructions that will take him on a tour around London, following the footsteps of their hero. A promising premise and there had been talk on social media of it serving as an unofficial companion piece to Kings Cross Theatre’s Bowie-penned Lazarus, an unexpected double bill for die-hard fans still reeling from the Starman’s untimely death this year.
Unfortunately From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads disappoints on many levels, the main issue being that the entire show just does not seem ready for public performance. The timing of sound and video cues needing some serious refinement. At one point there is a montage of photos of Bowie himself projected on the back of the set, an inelegant device that aids the production very little, and the occasional recorded track often drowns out the voice of Alex Walton, the lone performer onstage.
Other elements seem overly forced. We find out that Martin isn’t like others his age – he doesn’t go to pubs and clubs, or look at girls, or listen to (in a snide, derisive tone) chart music. He doesn’t even (gasp) have a phone! He prefers to stay inside and read angsty poetry, by the likes of Baudelaire and company. It’s such a contrived attempt at originality it’s almost laughable at how dated it is. There is nothing truly quirky about Martin, and he comes across as a product of a bygone decade, although the story is set in 2013, demonstrated by his eagerness to purchase a copy of the The Next Day album. Martin himself is a dislikeable creation, overly pretentious and unbelievably naïve.
Adrian Berry’s script does not help. Cliché follows cliché, with an ending you can predict from the moment Martin reads his father’s letter. Waxing lyrical lapses into purple prose, with nothing believable about the conversations taking place, using overly complicated syntax that probably sounds alright on paper, but not coming out of the mouths of a teenage boy and his mother. Nobody actually talks like this – not even David Bowie.
The piece runs for 75 minutes but feels longer in all the wrong places. A section where Martin visits Bowie’s childhood home and primary school seem to drag on endlessly, whereas the singer’s intriguing Soho years are barely touched upon. It smacks of working with a strict time limit where the creators of the show have suddenly realised they’ve got another hours’ worth of material to cram into twenty minutes and the story suffers for it.
Walton is a dynamic solo performer and his character work is good, particularly when he switches quickly between playing young Martin and the older cynical record shop owner in a quick-fire conversation. The performance, unfortunately, weakens when he steps out of character to act as narrator, not helped by Berry’s direction, which roots him to one spot, and his script, which forces him to trot out the facts in a clinical fashion, with little to liven them up.
Bowie was a fascinating figure, with aspects of his work and image that make for rich pickings when it comes to creating a show. Unfortunately what From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads has done is ignore the best parts of its source material in favour of producing a piece that is self-absorbed to the point of alienating its audience and is, quite frankly, dull. David Bowie could have been accused of many things, but never of being dull.
The final message (that life is completely meaningless unless you are talented and creative) comes across as petulant and selfish rather than heartrending, topped off with an ending that is frustratingly ambiguous. There’s nothing revelatory here for either Bowie die-hards or the casual fan, and the music that Martin so adores is woefully underused. In short, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, to follow the theme, attempts to be the freakiest show, but unfortunately ends up more of a saddening bore.
Until 6 November