“Being different and unique was suddenly on the table and something to aspire to.” Playwright and performer Bebe Barry tells us about how her father’s experience of seeing David Bowie perform led to the creation of coming-of-age tale Heroes. Read her interview then book your tickets!
Following sell-out runs at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, Heroes, which Bebe co-wrote with her Dad, Tony, comes to the Drayton Arms Theatre from 29 April to 11 May.
It is 1972, and the humdrum lives of Joe and Billie are changed forever when they witness David Bowie performing Starman for the first time on Top of the Pops. Determined to attend Bowie’s upcoming London gig, the friends leave home on what becomes a journey of self-discovery where the lines between hero worship and friendship become blurred.
David Bowie was one of British music’s most iconic stars, his ability to reinvent himself helping him to forge a career that spanned six decades. During the glam rock era of the early 70s, when Heroes is set, he released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spidersfrom Mars, which saw him create the eponymous alter ego. In the UK, he had eleven number one albums and recorded songs including Starman, Ashes to Ashes, Under Pressure, Let’s Dance and more.
In addition to its fringe success, Heroes has also enjoyed hit runs at Katzpace, Bridge House Theatre and Sydenham Arts Festival. London Pub Theatres described it as “A joyous story about growing up, friendship and loneliness,” while Edinburgh Living said it was “a triumph”.
As well as co-writing Heroes, Bebe Barry also plays Billie opposite Henry Lewis as Joe. Gregory Birks, Julian Bailey Jones, Mica Williams, Lily Smith and Dan Ciotowski complete the cast. Ben Woodhall directs.
The Drayton Arms host an eclectic and innovative collection of shows this spring/summer. Productions joining Heroes at the Kensington venue include Nuu Theatre’s premiere production Set in Stains, French-speaking production Les Muses Orphelines and Ionesco’s darkly comic The Bald Prima Donna.
Heroes runs at Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Rd, Kensington, London SW5 0LJ from 29 April to 11 May with performances Mondays to Saturdays at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £16. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Bebe Barry interview
Where did the idea for Heroes come from?
It was my dad (Tony) who had the original idea for Heroes. He intended it to be a book about that moment he first saw David Bowie on Top Of The Pops in 1972 performing Starman when he was a kid. In his words, his “little black and white world of the 70s suddenly turned into technicolor” and it was a once in a lifetime experience! Being different and unique was suddenly on the table and something to aspire to.
This was the seed for the play. The three main characters came next – three teenage misfits who are joined together by this powerful and joyous thing that was Bowie. A few years later, I was looking for plays to produce and nothing was inspiring me. I suddenly remembered this book idea and I knew we had to make it into a play!
It’s co-written by you and your Dad. How does your writing partnership work?
I know people say don’t work with friends or family, but in this case it was a blast. We were both so enthused about the story that ideas started flowing instantly. We sat down together and mapped out the story, added our four older characters and got the ball rolling. I then workshopped the script with our original cast and drafted the first finished script. Tony ‘era checked’ it, as I like to call it.
It was the perfect combination for us as I really felt that I could bring the youthful excitement and at times naivety to these characters, whereas my dad very much steered things in the right direction in terms of what would and wouldn’t have been said back then and what was important to these characters.
When did you first encounter David Bowie ?
My first encounter with David Bowie was when I was ten. I was learning the piano at the time and had a book called Easy To Play Rock Songs. There was one song in the book I’d never heard before, but I couldn’t stop playing it as the sound was so epic and unlike anything else in the book. My Dad suddenly ran into the room and asked “What are you playing?” He looked at the title and immediately found a CD and put it on. Life On Mars blasted through the speakers and I was astonished. I’d never heard anything like it before and I was instantly hooked. From then I was listening to every album, watching every video and absorbing as much Bowie as I could!
What I admire most about him is that he was always moving forward, was always ahead of the game and never got sentimental about what he’d done before. Everything was always about what was next and what hadn’t been discovered yet and I think that is an incredible way to go through life!
How has the show developed since its first staging at Katzpace?
The show has changed so much since its first staging and continues to develop every time we perform it. There’s something about going through the story of Heroes every night with your fellow cast mates that really bonds you. It’s an absolute rollercoaster and we’ve become a real family, which I think comes across on stage. There have been numerous rewrites, making the London scenes a bit grittier and not shying away from some of the darker aspects of the characters, but fundamentally the heart of the story has always stayed the same and that’s the part of the show that people leave remembering. At its core, it’s a story about kids learning to negotiate the world around them and finding their place in it.
Do you think it’s important that pieces have that time to grow and develop?
Definitely! You’ll never know if something really works until you get it in front of an audience and see how they respond to it. It becomes obvious that some parts really work and some parts don’t and making these tweaks between runs really helps refine a piece. Most of our cast have been with us since the original production also, so these characters really belong to these actors now.
Heroes is an experience and the most important part for us is that the audience leave feeling like they’ve been somewhere with us, whether they were around in the 70s or not.
You co-wrote Heroes and you’re also playing Billie. How do you find handing control over to the director, Ben Woodhall?
It’s brilliant handing over to Ben. We’ve worked together on a few things before and he is such a wonderful person to work with. There comes a point once you’ve written a show where you have to let it breathe, become something that doesn’t just belong to you anymore and really come alive. Ben is perfect for taking it to the next level and really driving the characters through the story. His vision is beautiful and I trust him implicitly to make the show the best it can be.
How are you feeling about staging the production at the Drayton Arms?
We’re all very excited. The Drayton Arms is an amazing space and has a very welcoming and open feel that compliments the show perfectly. We all love getting Heroes to as many new audiences as possible, and it’s been nearly a year since we last performed it, so there’s a definite buzz in the air surrounding this run.
What’s the most memorable gig you’ve been to?
I saw The Killers live at a festival when I was about 18. I’d actually lost everyone I was with and it being the last day there, no one had any power on their phones, so I made my way over on my own. Within the first ten minutes I was singing along with a whole new group of people and half an hour later we were all dancing and climbing on each others’ shoulders. By the end we were all best mates and then after I never saw any of them again! But that’s the best part of it all; you’re all their to see something you love and it becomes a real community for those few hours before you all go you’re different ways again.