Bebe and Tony Barry’s coming of age tale (set to a 1972 soundtrack of David Bowie hits) comes to the Drayton Arms Theatre, under the direction of Ben Woodhall, in a production that is enjoyable, without ever really reaching the stars.
Billie (Bebe Barry) is a misfit teenager from Tonbridge who is inspired by Bowie’s performance on Top of the Pops and decides to run away with her unlikely friends Joe (Henry Lewis), and Tinhead (Greg Birks) to London. By chance they meet up with busker and fellow Bowie fan Pete (Julian Bailey-Jones) and his friend Pinkie (Talia Pick) who take the youngsters back to the squat they share with drug-dealer David (Dan Ciotkowski) and the group matriarch Karen (Lily Smith). The gang embark on their Bowie adventure, aiming to see their hero perform before reality bites and brings tragedy.
The story centres around the emotions of the abused Billie and ignored Tinhead who are able to find a sense of belonging and family for the first time. Bebe Barry does well to show Billie’s anger, frustration and feelings of shame. Birks plays Tinhead as a geeky outsider, an observer through his ever-present camera rather than a participant in all the fun. When he does finally release his emotions Birk’s performance is both believable and powerful. The rest of the cast are fine but the lack of development for the four adult characters means they don’t really have much to get their teeth into.
The major problem is that the audience are never really transported to the 70s, despite the constant Bowie soundtrack. The dialogue feels too modern, the costuming is hit and miss, and the low-tech staging does not help either. The decision to use Ziggy-Stardust-esque sparkly backgrounds sits incongruously with most of the play being set either in a wooden den or a grimy squat.
As a vehicle for some talented young actors there is much to admire and if you are fan of Bowie then sharing the characters’ devotion would no doubt add another layer of pleasure but as a production Heroes has its limitations in both the writing and staging.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA