Adrian Berry

On the second anniversary of David Bowie's death the artistic director of a play that pays tribute to the musical superstar recalls where he was when he heard the news

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I am sat at my desk writing this piece on the second anniversary of the death of David Bowie. I remember both the day it happened and the first anniversary vividly.

I’d already begun writing my production From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads – an earlier version of which had received a kind of a nod from David himself, who read a draft of the script, and was on holiday playing around with the structure whilst lounging on an island in the Canaries.

Blackstar had just been released and I was lying by a pool, with the strange juxtaposition of the dark and mysterious new album in my ears, under the shade of a palm tree while a small child was drowning in a giant vat of ice cream nearby. I took my headphones off to get up for a swim when I heard those chilling words, said in a broad Yorkshire accent. “Have ya ‘eard? BOW-ie’s dead.”

Firstly he’d mispronounced his name. I could never forgive that. Secondly, did I really hear that correctly? It was the last day of my holiday, I’d been immersing myself in David’s music all week, the album had just been released. This… this was a joke, right?

I ran back to my room and turned on my laptop. It was everywhere and yes, it was true. David was dead. The Starman had ascended. I cried for hours. Texts flooded my phone and emails blocked my inbox. Everyone knew what he meant to me. Little did we know (or did we?) how much he meant to everyone.

The date of 10 January 2017 was a sombre, reflective, yet strangely celebratory evening

I nearly stopped writing the play but enough people from David’s camp were still giving encouragement, so the tale of a teenage boy with anorexia, a Bowie obsession and an absent father continued. And it grew and grew.

Fifty or so performances later, we were at the Old Market in Brighton for five sold-out nights, coinciding with David’s 70th birthday, soon followed two days later by the first anniversary of his passing. The date of 10 January 2017 was a sombre, reflective, yet strangely celebratory evening – reverential, calm, composed, maybe a few small tears.

At the end of the play, the boy Martin (played by Alex Walton) imagines a conversation with Bowie who, at the time the play is set, is still very much alive. David’s disembodied voice, brilliantly performed by the comedian Rob Newman, echoed around the theatre, and that’s when people began to lose it a little. The lights came up, a woman next to me shrieked and fell into her partner’s arms. I mouthed to her “I’m sorry” yet it was not me who had done this. It was the shared and personal memories of one of the greatest artists and pop stars who ever lived, gone. A year had passed. He really wasn’t coming back.

We still have the music, the photographs, the films, all there for eternity and future generations. But we never really had him, not really. He was for everyone and no one.

Today, 10 January 2018, I look at the door to the right of my desk, and see a newspaper front page from this day, two years ago – David’s anisocoric eyes staring right back at me with that familiar iconic, jagged flash on his face. Underneath, the words read : “And the stars look very different today.” They still do, David. They still do.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads tours nationally, including The Lowry, Salford, 17 Jan, The Brindley, Runcorn, 18 Jan, Unity Theatre, Liverpool, 19 Jan, Sheffield Theatres, 30-31 Jan, Theatre by the Lake, 6 Feb, Pocklington Arts Centre, 8 Feb, Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, 9 Feb and Barnsley Civic, 10 Feb

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