An Interview with Adrian Berry
by Marcus Reeves E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this interview we meet Ade Berry, the author of a new play, a dark comedy entitled From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.
Ade trained at drama school in the Wirral in Merseyside and found himself working as a jobbing actor and director for four years afterwards. A good few years down the line, with support from the Bull Theatre, Ade has started his own company, Tiny Dynamite, who will be presenting From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads at Camden People's Theatre in London's West End this September.
We met up in The Retro Bar, just off The Strand, a jolly little place which is as much a pub as a shrine to the camper end of pop and indie music from the 70's to the present day. Music seemed a good place to start. Ade's musical tastes are varied, but seem to veer to the darker and more experimental end of the spectrum, with Bowie being joined by Nick Cave, Nico, Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith and Talking Heads. Morrissey reared his glum head in the eighties along with Adam Ant, Human League, The Police and Soft Cell.
Ade's favourite Bowie albums are Low, Station To Station and Hunky Dory.
"I really disliked Young Americans; I hated that soul period so much! Earthling I thought was fantastic and "Hours..." I've been listening to more and more. I'm a Bowie fan but I really only discovered him in the last ten years. The first Bowie record I bought was Ashes to Ashes when I was about twelve, but I didn't continue to be a big fan. Like a lot of people, I lost interest in the eighties, but then only rediscovered his seventies stuff after that. I'm more interested in music now than I ever have been."
"As you get older you have obsessions and it's quite odd doing this play and revisiting them. This play is venting my own Bowie obsession and I'm becoming more interested in the cult of Bowie, how he reinvents himself and what the fascination is that people have with him. At the moment, he seems to be absolutely everywhere - in doing this project I realised how much stuff I'd got; books, biographies, songbooks, records... and I've been buying more stuff too!"
With 1998's Velvet Goldmine and the ICA's A Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, Bowie's sensational Glastonbury 2000 live comeback and the forthcoming Ziggy 2002 project, the time is now for Bowie fans; although Ade isn't trying to cash in on the recent resurgence of interest in all things Dr. Jones;
"It's a mistake to try and jump on bandwagons of 'hip-ness' or relevance. I've always aspired to write something which is timeless, and the thing about Bowie is that he is timeless. (Bowie) will always be there or be revisited, long after he's dead. He is everywhere now, through books, new records, gigs, even his baby. You can't dispute the fact that it is relevant but I want the play to be relevant on a long-term scale and not date."
"The play's main character is called Martin, who finds himself sharing a room with two girls in a special hospital where they all have eating disorders. Martin's father was a huge, huge Bowie fan, who destroyed his family through his obsession. He has a very dysfunctional relationship with his mother who's an alcoholic, but she's in denial. Martin has never grieved for the loss of his father and has filled that gap with Bowie. It's a very Freudian thing, he doesn't need to grieve for his father, because he's got David Bowie. He writes daily to Bowie and speaks to Bowie, which is really with his Dad."
Although From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads has a strong autobiographical element, Ade stresses that he wasn't a Bowie obsessive as a teenager and was never in a hospital. However, Ade, like the play's central character, was very close to his sister and lost his father when his parents split up. The play is a far more extreme version of a similar tale.
"I had two ideas for a play and they both stemmed back quite a long time. As a teenager, I suffered from anorexia and I had an idea for a book about a teenage male anorexic, partly to get it off my chest and partly because it's not spoken about. It's always in the media about females with eating disorders, but never about males. From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads was a title I had in my head, and the other idea I'd had was about a teenage Bowie obsessive living in a bedsit, which was possibly connected to me as well, because I left home very young and lived in a bedsit when I was seventeen. I thought they both might be quite dull on their own, but it was almost like I'd brought the two together subconsciously. I started writing the Bowie play and set it in a hospital. Originally, Martin had some kind of wasting illness, but then I thought, 'what am I really thinking about here?', so then I based it in a place for people with eating disorders."
"The play is about three things: family, dysfunctional relationships and loss. It's not really about anorexia and it's not really about David Bowie; the obsession could have been with anybody. Eating disorders are all about control. When you can't control what's going on around you, you have to have things that you can control, which are yours: obsessions."
Like Dennis Potter's plays, Blackeyes, Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective, where characters burst into song, (often period songs with an ironic slant on the narrative or simply a moment of light relief, where a character slips into a fantasy), Bowie's songs are used to break the play up, with the characters lip-synching to tracks such as Starman, Lady Grinning Soul and Life on Mars, with Rock 'n' Roll Suicide as the finale. Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture also provided inspiration for the play;
"It's quite a startling piece of film, it stuck with me for ages; the adulation of the Ziggy Stardust character. He's the ultimate rock 'n' roll hero, but people weren't just adulating Bowie, they were adulating a monster, which is what Martin has also become. Not a bad monster, but a monster nevertheless."
Through the Bull Theatre where Ade is based, he met Rob Newman, (known to most people from the highly acclaimed comedy duo Newman and Baddiel and now a brilliant stand-up comic in his own right) who has recorded a Bowie voice-over for sections of the play where Martin converses with Bowie himself.
"He does a brilliant Bowie impersonation in his act and I phoned him up, thinking 'he won't do it, or he'll want lots of money for it', but he'd been wanting to do something creative with his Bowie impersonation so he jumped at the chance. He showed me about five different ways he could do it, one was a very caricatured way, rather like Phil Cornwell from Stella Street, then he just talked to me in Bowie's voice, pointing out that Bowie can talk about anything, even something very mundane, but make it seem more interesting by the way he says it."
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads is the first part of a planned trilogy Adrian is currently developing. In Jack Pleasure, the second part, the central character takes on the name of a dead Dutch porn star. He decides that he will escape from living with his parents in Surbiton and make it big as a porn star in America, but fails miserably.
Five Fingered Fuck, the third part, is the story of a Bovine inseminator; the father figure of a family who can't relate to his family. It too deals with the repressed feelings hidden under the mundane facade of everyday life. The trilogy centres around dysfunctional families and taboos, through the eyes of a central young male character.
"I think it's important to tackle taboos, things that haven't been challenged before, otherwise you don't do anything new. There are still taboos in the world; everyone thinks that we're all so open now, but it seems that some things still are taboo. For example, who's ever written a play about masturbation? Although you've got to be careful you're not doing something just to shock. Male anorexia is not a shocking subject, but there's a lot of people who aren't given a voice. Women's magazines are happy to talk about anorexia at the same time as showing images of emaciated waifs, but you won't get Men's Health magazine or FHM talking about these things; they can't because of the very nature of what they're there for; it's denial of all those things, they're all very 'hetero' and 'macho'. The only time I've ever seen it covered was in the gay paper, Boyz, about two years ago, which leads people to think that if someone has an eating disorder then their sexuality is in question as well, which is completely ridiculous. I've got an obsession with the idea of machismo, and it comes up in the play in the idea of male identity and people's perception of it. There's a hell of a lot repressed sexuality in the 'straightest' of men and the characters in the play question Martin's obsession as to what it really 'means'."
Although the play has a rather sad premise, Ade is keen to point out that it is a comedy;
"It's a tragedy, but it's not tragic. In the words of Samuel Beckett, 'There's nothing funnier than sadness.'" As well as an unintentional Potter influence, Ade is a big fan of Patrick Marber's work. "I'm a very contemporary writer, I couldn't write anything traditional or historical - although it's early days yet! What (Patrick Marber) does I find accessible, cerebral and intellectual. I've also got this little part of me that wants to shock people, not for the sake of it, but not holding back. There's a lot of self-censorship that goes on in the theatre and I don't see the point in it.
I'm not really a 'conceptual' writer, I really wanted to do a play; you don't see enough plays any more with dialogue, you never get to learn or empathise with characters. There's too much purely physical or visual theatre at the moment. Companies like Complicit are somewhere I aspire to; they're visual and physical but they can draw you in and make you love their work."
Alex Clarke, who plays Martin, sums up From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads quite neatly;
"The play has a wide appeal, it's got something for everyone; there are fourteen year olds with eating disorders, there are eighty year olds who have eating disorders. There are fourteen year olds who feel secluded and lonely as well as eighty year olds who feel the same way. Everyone will be able to appreciate where Martin is coming from in one way or another, be it loneliness, having an eating disorder, fantasising or obsessiveness."
Ade's trilogy should be a challenging and intriguing set of plays, which will probably ask as many questions as they answer. One thing is for sure, given that Bowie fans can be a somewhat unusual bunch, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads should strike a few chords with some of them.