From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Charlie Stone

at 13:52 on 13th Aug 2017

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Music and mental illness combine in this uncomfortable portrayal of a young lover of David Bowie whose fragile nature is tested to the limit on his quest to meet his father. Alex Walton enthusiastically plays the vulnerable Martin along with various other characters in a one-man show which hammers home issues of anxiety and eating disorders; whilst following the life of the late Bowie. It is a well-constructed play, combining physical theatre, monologue, extra-diegetic sound and various uses of lighting. This creates a diversity appropriate to such an imaginative storyline.

David Bowie, clearly, plays an important part in this production, but those expecting a feast of his songs should be wary. Ultimately, one plays witness to the story of the eighteen-year-old Martin, and the Bowie songs, settings and recorded excerpts are only methods of underlining this character’s obsessive personality. Obsession is a troubling part of mental illness, and it is a pertinent choice that the object of Martin’s mania is a singer who himself, as explained over the speaker, has parallel character traits to the young man.

At times, perhaps, one questions the decision to direct this as a one-man show. Walton’s skill in switching characters is evident, but the blurring between omniscient narrator and vulnerable character sometimes detracts personality from both. The use of an extra-diegetic voice to portray the character Glenda is efficient in highlighting Martin’s isolation, but perhaps might bring the attention more onto the fact that it is a one-man production more than the issues highlighted within.

Other technical effects, though, are used to great effect. Spotlights on Martin when he is at his most vulnerable are adept at making the audience feel closer to his emotions. His neurotic nature is also highlighted well by the frenetic lighting which is interspersed between certain scenes, and some of Bowie’s tracks are added to effect.

The plot progression itself is well-made and original, and the triangle of Bowie, Martin and his father aids a poignant character development, wherein we feel just as nervous as Martin alone in London. The simple set is used well to this effect: at one point a table becomes a phone box, the scene of a troubling attack of nerves which gains a claustrophobic feel in spite of the large stage. Ultimately, then, 'From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads' is a skilled exploration of mental illness with a nicely themed plot. It is not an extended tribute to David Bowie, but his songs are appropriate to complement Martin’s painful journey.

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Ruby Gilding

at 15:10 on 18th Aug 2017

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The death of musician-starman David Bowie has inspired a welcome number of shows at this year’s Fringe. From the packed auditorium at this performance it is clear that Bowie sells. If only Adrian Berry’s offering ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’ could merit a review as starry as its muse. The premise was promising: the troubles of young Bowie obsessive, Martin, are brought to the fore on his 18th birthday. However, the production was heavy handed, to say the least, as Berry’s script and direction managed to take all the beauty out of Bowie.

Alex Walton is a dedicated actor who whole heartedly embodies the multiple roles that this one man show demands. However, the drama is entirely hung upon its central protagonist, and Walton’s rendition of Martin felt over-played. A petulant voice and childish physicality helped to establish Martin as a vulnerable member of society, but rather than garner our empathy, this combination just made the character grating for the audience. The direction was also overly dramatic. A confused opening sequence in which ‘My Way’ played ominously for an overlong period was then followed by Walton bursting on to the empty stage in a fit of dancing, or convulsions.

‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’ certainly had a unique approach to the iconography of Bowie. In a bold move the star was entirely framed by Martin who was “deaf to them, but awake to Bowie.” Shockingly, Bowie appeared to have a toxic influence on the family’s relationships – as it is hinted that he is the reason that Martin’s Bowie-fanatic father abandoned him. The unexpected gift of a map rom Martin’s father is a useful plot device; providing a coherent structure to the play’s second half which takes in sites like Bowie’s old school, childhood home, and Soho. However, it became painfully obvious that this was merely an excuse for Berry to shoehorn Bowie’s biography alongside the narrative of another lonely, misunderstood boy. Many moments in the script felt contrived, and even plain uncomfortable to watch – as when Martin speaks to a lone schoolboy in a playground. There were some clever directorial decisions, such as playing just the vocal audio of ‘5 Years’ so that Bowie’s voice was eerily isolated from its backing track, or when the simple set was reinvented - a table lifted to transform into a telephone box. The stage appeared to be wrapped in cellophane – which didn’t hide how stale the production felt. The fault of ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’ lies primarily with its script; a sentiment echoed by the audience members around me who complained of “indulgent writing.”

For Martin’s character this was bildungs roman gone wrong. The journey to London held the promise of escape, but frustratingly Martin remained trapped in a circle of suffering. This is typical of some portrayals of mental health sufferers, but is tragic in a play where Bowie was presented as a redemptive figure. If Bowie unites “all the nobody people,” asking you to join his “kooky” band, then why did Martin’s obsession with Bowie effectively lead to his fall? At the end of the play, when Martin reads aloud his father’s words “What remains of me now, what do I leave behind?” it is hard not to think of Bowie’s passing; thankfully ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’ won’t be what Bowie is remembered by.

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