This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
Yes, we may all have to adjust our holiday habits as a result of the falling pound, but Adrian Barry’s 75-minute one-act play has nothing to do with that. Instead, the title is taken from the lyric of David Bowie’s Life on Mars and the play tells of a teenager’s journey to find his father or, perhaps, David Bowie himself.
On his 18th birthday in 2013, Martin is looked on as the weirdo of the dreary town near Northampton where he lives. Bullied by other boys, he suffers from eating disorders and is self-harming. His mother is a chain-smoking alcoholic and his father had walked out on the family 16 years earlier, leaving behind only a box full of Bowie memorabilia and an envelope to be given to him on this very day. “Parents f**k you up” complains Martin.
Alex Walton is captivating, both when narrating the story in the third person and when switching to play Martin and other characters, Berry’s descriptive writing is vivid and his direction brings out the central character’s tormented isolation which leads to a pop idol becoming his only friend. Rob Newman voices Bowie offstage and Margaret Campbell can be heard as Martin’s counsellor. Back projections add flashes of nostalgia for the 1970s, but the overriding tone is one of mystery, as we wait to discover what Martin;s journey will bring,
The envelope given to Martin contains a tenner and a sort of treasure trail map leading him around places in London connected to Bowie. He starts at Stockwell Primary school, winds his way through the southern suburbs to Croydon, which Bowie despised, and stops off at a pub where he performs an excruciating karaoke version of Starman. Then it is on to Soho, a studio where Bowie recorded and Denmark Street where he once hung out with legends. There are touches of humour along the way but not enough of the music that so entrances father and son.
As the journey progresses, the darkness underlying Bowie’s fantasy worlds begins to surface and Martin finds parallels between his own life and his idol’s troubled early years. It is suggested that the singer’s bizarre creations and his androgynous image came from reactions to tragedy and adolescent rebellion against orthodoxy. However, Martin is not equipped to follow further along Bowie’s path to fame and fortune.
In its later stages, the play is far removed from a euphoric celebration of heroes; it has become a sad lament on behalf of the lost and the lonely, a sobering reflection on the flip side of popular culture.
Performance date: 20 October 2016