With his death earlier this year, there’s no question that the spectre of David Bowie has been looming large, but in From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, it seems to loom larger for no one more than it does for David Bowie obsessive, Martin. The play’s main character, Martin suffers from a number of undiagnosed mental illnesses that makes it difficult for him to interact with others and sees him suffering from the extremes of an eating disorder. He’s also obsessed with the late and great David Bowie to an almost religious extent, the same way he is obsessed with his absentee father. Living with his mother, Martin is set on the path of an unconventional adventure throughout London when he receives a mysterious gift on his eighteenth birthday from his missing father.
One of the very beautiful things about this play has to be Alex Walton’s performance and portrayal of the Martin and, in fact, of almost all the characters in this show. Excluding the ones that make appearances as voices only, Walton steps into the characters Martin encounters fluidly and with a clear distinction between each that never leaves us wondering just who he is at that moment. Yet it is Walton’s endearing take on Martin that allows us to cheer for the character as he desperately tries to make it through this unconventional hero’s journey. As an actor, he doesn’t pull back from the character traits that can cause Martin to seem annoying or abrasive at times, but he uses them to make Martin the fully fleshed out character he is.
Of course, high praises have to be given to Adrian Berry, the writer and director who has created this compelling narrative and surprisingly relatable and heartbreaking protagonist. From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is full of moments that range from joyfully hilarious to absolutely cringe-worthy to completely heart-breaking, and keeps you hooked the whole time. It’s a completely moving journey all around London that uses the sparse set of movable cubes of metal pipes in an incredible versatile way that, coupled with Walton’s acting, allows us to believe the play is taking place where ever we are told. The extremely successful use of multimedia elements like projections and recorded voices also add a definite atmospheric element that allows us glimpses into Martin’s mind.
As beautiful and moving as this From Ibiza is, it is a bit disappointing to see another play with a clearly autistic-coded main character that refuses to acknowledge even the chance that he could be autistic. Martin’s eating disorder, his troubles picking up on social cues and interacting with other people, and even his special interest in David Bowie all point towards autism, but even his disembodied therapist never says the word. Instead, Martin’s diagnosis is left mysterious even, it seems, to the characters themselves. It’s wonderful to see neurodivergent characters represented and treated as human, but it would be better if we could name and recognise what these neurodivergences are.
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads played at The Waterloo East Theatre on 6 November. The show continues to tour until March 2017, more information on the production website.