THE theatre show, featuring the music of David Bowie, is based around one boy’s struggles with mental health. Its writer Adrian Berry tells EDWIN GILSON about his own teenage problems and why Bowie was perfect for the play

COUNTLESS people have been deeply affected by David Bowie’s music while growing up. But there can’t be many who have had frequent imaginary conversations with the pop legend.

In Adrian Berry’s From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads – the title taken from a lyric in Life on Mars – lead character Martin consults Bowie for advice during his struggles with eating disorder and mental health issues. The show is returning to The Old Market after selling out five consecutive nights at the venue last year, just months after Bowie’s death. While Berry created it years before that tragic day in January 2016, he admits he was worried some people would see the play as a cynical move.

“When Bowie died we thought that we couldn’t really carry on,” he says. “We didn’t want it to look like a cash-in but that’s what a few people said on social media. I was saying, ‘come on, we’re not exactly playing Wembley Arena’”.

There were numerous tribute nights launched in the months after Bowie’s passing – “bad cabaret shows” as Berry calls them – but the writer adds that his show is far away from that kind of event. “It’s about keeping David’s memory alive as opposed to being a depressing, funereal tribute,” he says.

From Ibiza To The Norfolk Broads is essentially the story of a teenage boy battling with his mental health, just as Berry himself did in his teenage years. When Martin finds a crate of Bowie memorabilia previously owned by his father – who walked out on him when he was two – he sets off on a journey that is both a Bowie pilgrimage and a voyage of self-discovery.

Martin believes he can find the whereabouts of his dad by retracing the steps of the Thin White Duke as he started his career. It has been described as a “theatrical road movie” but in reality Martin’s quest takes him to places like Croydon and Streatham rather than glamorous American highways. “Martin inherits his father’s Bowie’s obsession, but Bowie also becomes a surrogate father to him,” says Berry. “It’s all intertwined.”

Surprisingly, the writer wasn’t smitten with Bowie as a teenager – his musical obsessions were Adam Ant and Soft Cell. It was only when his girlfriend gave him a tape of Hunky Dory that Berry’s own journey with the singer started. Then, when Bowie emerged from a wilderness period with 2012’s The Next Day, Berry began to envisage the play that would become From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.

The writer was recently asked whether the show could have been based around Madonna, say, or Freddie Mercury, but he is adamant neither of those icons would have had the same impact as Bowie. Berry knows full well the pros and cons of teenage obsession, which can be brought out by mental illness and eating disorders.

“It’s something I went through in my teens,” he says. “The traits of that are to have obsessive, compulsive behavioural patterns, so being infatuated with somebody like Bowie is a completely truthful representation of that.”

The play teases out the complexity of this paradox – that music can offer a release but also distract you from the actual world “A lot of the play dips in and out of conversations with Martin’s therapist who is like the slap in the face of reality,” says Berry. “He just wants to stay in bed all day and listen to music. From my memory and speaking to young people that rings completely true.”

There are references to self-harm and crushing anxiety in the show but Berry insists it is far from gloomy and has its uplifting moments. It often provokes visceral emotional responses from its audience, as Berry knows.

“I was sitting in the back row the other day and the woman next to me was smiling and bawling her eyes out at the time,” he says. “She looked at me and said sorry, so I said I wrote the play. We had a big hug.”

You suspect there might be more where that came from at The Old Market next week.

From Ibiza To The Norfolk Broads
The Old Market, Hove
Tuesday to Thursday, 8pm. For tickets and more information visit or call 01273 201801