Adrian Berry is the writer and director of From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, a one-man show about an obsessive David Bowie fan (played by Alex Walton) which opens this month at Waterloo East Theatre ahead of a UK tour. Adrian originally trained as an actor himself and has collaborated with a wide variety of artists across circus, music and theatre. He is currently artistic director of Jacksons Lane, the cultural and creative hub in north London.
It’s been a strange year for me, has 2016, as well as quite an emotional one. I lost a couple of friends too soon, I produced some shows with my theatre, I took work up to the Edinburgh festival, I was at arts and circus festivals in Hungary, Spain, Finland, Sweden, and I started writing a play, something I had started many years ago but decided to totally rewrite and update. This play was about David Bowie. And, whilst on holiday in Tenerife in January this year, the last day of my vacation, this happened.
I was down at the pool quite early, drinking coffee and reading a book. A group from Yorkshire were sunbathing next to me, and one of them suddenly proclaimed – ‘HAVE YOU HEARD? BOWIE’S DEAD’.
I thought I had misheard him. And he had also committed the most cardinal sin of pronouncing it ‘BOWie’ (like ‘how’ or ‘cow’ when any fool knows it is ‘BOWie’, like ‘sew’ or ‘mow’). David Bowie. Dead? But his new album was out today. Surely he must have misheard the news?
I ran back to my room and switched on my phone. About 20 texts and missed calls, at least ten answerphone messages. I searched the internet. It was everywhere. It was true. What an end to my holiday, and what a beginning to 2016.
“This was not my Bowie, I thought. He deserves better than this.”
Back to reality in London a few days later, I thought – how can I even contemplate making a show about and influenced by David Bowie now? It would be too disrespectful, surely. But then one night soon after my holiday I found myself at a theatre and film event ‘celebrating’ David’s life. People were drunk, dressed as Ziggy or Jareth the Goblin King from Labyrinth, bellowing Starman at the top of their voices like footballs fans on the terrace on a Saturday afternoon. This was not my Bowie, I thought. He deserves better than this. Then one by one, many friends, colleagues and fans started getting in touch. ‘You must do the show, Ade’. ‘We want to see it’. ‘It’s the best tribute you could make’. So I thought, maybe we could still do it?
Fast forward to September 2016, still the same year but in other ways many light years from that moment on vacation, and here we are in the rehearsal studio, a little team of five, creating what we feel is a powerful solo theatrical work about a boy obsessed with Bowie who journeys to London to follow in his footsteps, to discover some secrets about his family.
I feel that I have moved on from the way I used to work as a writer and director, and have found more possibilities in a solo piece with physical storytelling, thanks also to the astonishing performer I have chosen, Alex Walton. We both managed to get over the obstacles of how we felt about David’s death by setting the play (if ‘play’ is the right word) in a time when Bowie was still very much alive in 2013, at the time he surprised the world with his first new album for ten years.
We feel From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is a respectful and exciting work, which uses many theatrical techniques; magic realism, imagery, projection, and some creative nods to David as a cultural and fashion icon. After three weeks in London, we are taking it on tour around the UK for six months, from tiny black boxes to larger prosceniums, from Brighton to Birmingham, and everywhere in between. Many places that David had performed in over the last fifty years too. We are very excited to share our creation with the world.
And for me, the best thing about all of this is that, out of something so sad and tragic, I have witnessed so many events, new works, genuine tributes, works of art, theatre, writing – all influenced by David Bowie and all prompted in some way by his passing.
It’s a cliché to say this, but for such a generous artist who was always searching, creating, innovating, supporting new art and young artists, it is, maybe, what he would have wanted.
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads runs at London’s Waterloo East Theatre from 18 October to 6 November 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter or Facebook for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the show.