David Bowie performs ‘Starman’ on BBC Television’s Top of the Pops, on 6th July 1972 (yes, I did look that up), and Joe (Henry Lewis) and Billie (Bebe Barry) are utterly enthralled by the performance. Joe comes across Tinhead (Greg Birks) at school – whether it was a secondary modern or a grammar school is unclear – and the trio almost immediately scoot off to London. The intention, it seems, is to do more in London than attend Bowie’s concert, presumably the one at the Royal Festival Hall on 8th July 1972 (yes, I looked that up too).
Seeing as the show’s programme makes clear “the friends leave home”, I will assume it’s not too much of a spoiler to confirm that’s what happens to these underage characters. I wonder, though, whether the events that transpire could happen today. Leaving aside that Bowie himself is no longer with us, and justifiably much missed by so many, I suspect our three musketeers might well have been tracked down pretty quickly with the use of social media and mobile telephony, ubiquitous as it is these days. With CCTV only in experimental stages in the UK at the time, it is some time before the teenagers even find out missing posters have gone up.
I found the manner in which the trio come across Pinkie (Mica) and Pete (Julian Bailey-Jones) rather unlikely, though on the other hand, it says something about the youngsters’ relative naivety. Pinkie’s apparent concern for the youngsters’ wellbeing is not shared by housemate David (Dan Ciotkowski), for reasons explained in the narrative, though his girlfriend Karen (Posy Sparey) is more sympathetic.
What they all have in common is an appreciation for David Bowie. The teenagers insist on pronouncing it ‘bow-ee’ (rhyming with ‘cow’) rather than ‘boh-ee’ (rhyming with ‘no’), which undoubtedly will have riled Bowie’s fans and supporters in the audience. At least the trio were consistently wrong.
A number of moral dilemmas spring up during the show, some of which are resolved with the swiftness and terseness that those who believe what they are doing is The Right Thing To Do tend to conclude discussions. I wasn’t one of the audience members who were singing along to each and every lyric included in the show, but whether one is familiar with the Ziggy Stardust phase of David Bowie’s career is ultimately neither here nor there (it was, truth be told, a few years before my time). There’s a lot to be learned about these characters, and a lot some of the characters learn about themselves, and of others.
It will come as no surprise to those who appreciate Bowie’s music that the soundtrack to this play didn’t bother me in the slightest. Greg Birks’ Tinhead was the stand-out performance for me, not nearly as assured as his new friends are (the character, not the actor!) but developing in confidence as he finds his feet within the group and the world at large. Heart-strings were justifiably tugged judging by the audience’s reaction to him simply thanking everyone else in the group for giving him what he believed to be the best day of his life.
It follows, of course, that people don’t run away unless they have something to run away from. Putting myself in the youngsters’ shoes, I certainly wouldn’t want to return home if I could help it. The plot isn’t wholly watertight in this play, but the performances are convincingly enthusiastic and passionate. The play is an exploration of what it is to feel alone, for instance, as much as it is about taking a leap into the unknown to pursue the fulfilment of ambitions. An energetic and compelling production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
HEROES is a coming of age story set in the summer of 1972 to the soundtrack of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Remember the day that music changed your life? After witnessing David Bowie’s performance of ‘’Starman’’ on Top of
the Pops, life for teenagers Joe & Billie would never be the same, it wasn’t just the music, the blue guitar or the iconic gold jumpsuit – it was just ‘Bowie’ and the sense he gave that not fitting in was never going to be an issue again. Determined to attend Bowie’s upcoming London gig, the friends run away from home on what becomes a roller coaster ride of self-discovery – a search for belonging where the lines between hero worship and friendship become blurred.
Fresh from its sell-out run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, HEROES is an original play written by Bebe Barry and Tony Barry and features a stunning cast of graduates from the UK’s top drama schools.
BRIDGE HOUSE THEATRE
Monday 23rd October – Sunday 5th November 2017
Press nights: Tuesday 24th & Wednesday 25th October at 7:30pm
BRIDGE HOUSE THEATRE 2 High Street Penge London SE20 8RZ