From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Reviewed – 7th March 2018
“Walton captivates the audience throughout in an energetic and versatile performance”
The title of this play, which has been doing the rounds for a couple of years now, lifted from the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ is inevitably going to attract the attention of his fans. Incorporating the spectre of such a revered musical icon is quite a risk. Writer Adrian Berry does well, then, to pull the focus away from Bowie and concentrate on the effect he has on a young man. However, you can’t get away from the fact that the majority of the audience would have been drawn to this show by the association.
“From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads” is the story of Martin, a troubled teenager on the cusp of his eighteenth birthday. He lives with his alcoholic mother, his father having walked out on them sixteen years earlier. Suffering from pretty much every emotional disorder in the textbook, his obsession with the music of David Bowie is matched by his longing to see his father again. For his birthday his mother gives him an envelope from his father, which she has held for him since he was a baby. Inside is a map and a set of instructions written by his father that propel him onto a life-changing journey.
It is Alex Walton’s performance that defines this play. Walton captivates the audience throughout in an energetic and versatile performance, sometimes slipping effortlessly into the characters he meets on his journey. As Martin, he doesn’t sidestep the issues of personality disorder and alienation but uses them to flesh out his character in a totally endearing fashion, making fun of society’s “lazy” interpretations of mental illness. Walton’s skills as a raconteur do away with any need for a set. The picture he paints with words alone is as visible to the audience as any big budget backdrop.
Adrian Berry’s writing is sharp, and reminiscent of an early Conor McPherson, in particular ‘Rum and Vodka’. Berry shares his attention to detail and we are accordingly drawn into the story. Part of the fun of the piece, too, is spotting the song titles and lyrics cleverly woven into the text, sometimes almost imperceptibly. And references to Philip Larkin and even more hidden pointers to ‘The Elephant Man’ or Alan Yentob, for example, show that Berry knows his stuff.
The decision to include the voice of Rob Newman is unnecessary. Yes, Newman gives a fair impersonation of David Bowie, but these intermittent voiceovers do little to enhance the narrative and provide little insight. One could also extend this argument to question the ‘Bowie’ focus entirely. This is not a criticism; the piece could easily stand up on its own as a touching portrait of a young man’s journey to find his father, his fraught relationships with his mother and his dealings with a sometimes hostile society. Moments of comedy segue into moments of trauma. The final scene, despite being somewhat unresolved, is tender and affecting and Walton’s performance tugs at the heart. That’s when you realise that the character’s obsession with Bowie is a mere subplot.
The show is in danger of being a victim of its selling point. Those who go to see this as a homage to David Bowie will be disappointed, but if you’re after a compelling and intense portrait of a ‘kooky’ teenager then this is the show for you.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Ben Hopper
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Jacksons Lane until 10th March