THIS year has been typified by the loss of a great many people of which one of the most notable was David Bowie.
The Brixton-born singer, songwriter, artist and entertainer passed away on January 10 in New York prompting an outpouring of grief and tributes from around the world.
Now a celebration of his life and music is coming to South London in the form of a play, From Ibiza To The Norfolk Broads.
Written by Londoner Adrian Berry it will be performed at the Waterloo East Theatre between Tuesday October 18 and Sunday November 6.
It is an updated version of a piece Adrian wrote a few years ago which was performed in both London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It follows the story of Martin, a David Bowie obsessive, with an illness no one can understand, a head full of sound and vision, and who receives an unexpected gift on his 18th birthday.
It propels him on a surreal and thrilling journey to London in the footsteps of Bowie and in which he finds himself performing on the stage where Ziggy Stardust was born, in Bowie’s bedroom and then taken on a treasure trail to discover the truth about himself and his family. What follows is set to change his life forever.
Performed by one man, Alex Walton, the 60-minute play is a powerful and touching story set to a blistering soundtrack with a nod to Bowie’s heroes and influences. It also features videos as a backdrop and the voice of comedian Robert Newman as Bowie.
And although it is certainly a homage to the great man, Adrian stresses it was not written as a result of Bowie’s death.
“I’d been writing and developing it for about two years,” he tells me. “I started off when I was staying at a friend’s house in Florida and was actually writing two plays. However I realised after a while that I was writing the same play so I amalgamated them.
“When I had finished I sent the original version to Bowie and to which he gave his blessing, sending me a nice email about it.
“Although it had been staged before, when he died I thought I couldn’t put it on again. However a huge amount of people who knew Bowie thought it would be a good tribute. So I carried on developing it and now here it is.
“Initially the idea came about because I am a huge fan of Bowie’s and wanted to celebrate his art, music and indeed his legacy and to take the audience on a journey to where it all began.
“It’s a tribute of course as he was such an important figure in our popular culture but it’s not a biography of him.
“It’s set about four years ago or so before he died. I wanted to keep him in the present rather than lament his passing.
“Essentially there are three stories running through the piece - it’s a love letter to London, it’s about Bowie and his London, the city that formed him and created many of the unique characters he showed us not to mention his astonishing music.
“Alongside that is the parallel of a boy who has an eating disorder, whose father left him when he was two and how he goes on a journey to find him.
“Through the narrative the audience is taken to all the places that were important to Bowie in some way - his homes in Brixton and Beckenham as well as venues he performed in and other places he lived in.
“And although it’s a solo piece it feels fuller because of all these strands. I did start off by bringing in other people to play the other characters but it felt wrong whereas this feels quite liberating. It’s the mark of what a good actor Alex is that he’s able to conjure up all the people who appear in the story.”
The voice of Bowie has been done by comedian Robert Newman and he provides a mix of a voice that Martin hears in his head as well as a commentary.
“I thought Robert would say no initially,” says Adrian. “However, I wrote to him and asked if he’d do it and he said yes. So we went to a studio in Kentish Town near where he lives and we spent a day there working on it.
“Some of the things we recorded were things Bowie had said in the printed press but never on audio such as TV. So to have these words recorded brings the quotes alive. It was quite special and sent a shiver down our spines!”
As well as the video projection and the words there is of course plenty of music which Adrian admits will be a big draw for Bowie fans.
But he hopes the play will also appeal to those who may not know much about Bowie or his music.
“You don’t have to be knowledgable about him to enjoy the play,” says Adrian. “It’s a story that people can relate to on any level, whether or not they know about Bowie and his music, so I hope people will come along and go on the journey with the boy. I hope as many people come to see it as possible - anything that brings in new audiences is great.
“It’s funny and moving and quite dramatic so I think there is something there for everyone.
“It was fascinating to write. I’m a huge Bowie fan although I came rather late to him, but had to do a lot of research even so. I talked to a lot of people who knew him including his former landlady, Geoff Marsh who curated the recent David Bowie exhibition and childhood friends who were all lovely and very helpful.
“They were also very respectful in the way they shared the information with me.”
Unfortunately Bowie never saw the original production but Adrian hopes he would have liked it and that he would give this updated version his blessing too.
And although he won’t give too much away, he says that the ending will be poignant.
“There is a glimmer of hope,” is all he will say.
After the run in London the play will go out on tour and take in some towns and cities that Bowie had connections with including Norwich where he played a gig in 1973.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see what audiences make of it,” says Adrian. “I’m very excited about it because it’s created a lot of interest and if it brings in younger audiences that will be great.
“Bowie had such an impact on people - through his music, art and words - that I hope people enjoy this tribute.”
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is on at the Waterloo East Theatre between Tuesday, October 18 and Sunday, November 6. Tickets cost £15. Visit www.waterlooeast.co.uk for full listings.