Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie
Stephen Jones in Falling To Earth My Summer With Bowie. Image, Jerry McCarthy
We’ll get to the facts, but first the truth. The truth that Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie is devastatingly good. Eugene O’Brien’s one man play staring Stephen Jones a triumph in every department. Jim Nolan’s top drawer direction and Jones’ tour de force performance making for an incredibly enjoyable experience. Indeed, if you see only one play about David Bowie starring Stephen Jones this Festival make sure it’s Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie.
As for the facts; it’s impossible to over estimate the cultural, artistic and historical significance of David Bowie. Sexual fluidity, gender bending, androgyny; Bowie paved the way at a time when it was dangerous to do so. As a result, Bowie’s individuality of expression holds a personal significance for many, whether gay or straight. The rebel’s rebel, the man who fell to earth, himself an alien outsider. Both man and music offering an escape from the horrors, the cheapness, the meanness of life. Snatched at with both hands by Scut Kelly. Former boxer, currently bouncer, and an avid drinker, Scut's trapped in small town life with a small minded father he takes care of. Having small chance of becoming anything other than Scut Kelly. A dead end soul and embarrassment to himself, Scut's luck looks like changing when he gets the chance to work as security for Bowie. The icon working incognito at a nearby studio. The legend now frail and ill, also seeking refuge in music. Scut’s world turned upside down as old ghosts step into the light and new possibilities present themselves. Culminating in an encounter with Ziggy Stardust which forces Scut into a showdown with himself.
As an observer of small town life, O’Brien is never less than exacting, capturing its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies without ever devolving into caricature. Its loneliness, heartbeat and humour distilled into salient details elevating Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie from a one person confessional into a universe with its own gravitational pull. Inhabited by a multitude of characters, building layer upon layer of insight. Humour plunging beneath the surface to reveal awkwardness, embarrassment, frustration, rage, pride, arrogance, pain. Conveyed in a joke, a glance, a gesture. A phrase heard a million times before given fresh life conveying the complexities of simple characters. The heart breaking scene of Scut trying to console his new found friend and surrogate father, yet unable to shake being fan to his hero, enough to knock you for six.
Simple, sparse, Brian Mitchell’s excellent set is a triumph of imagination over budget, or an apparent lack of one. Bowie albums and covers hung in clever arrangements allowing for infinite versatility. Along with two white boxes rearranged to endlessly refashion the space, all illuminated to perfection by Tara Perry. Under Jim Nolan’s impeccable direction, Jones doesn’t so much use the space as bend it to his imaginative will; a black box made as wide as the universe. Jones’ accent, tone, gestures, movements articulating Scuts inner and outer worlds. In truth, words fall short when describing Jones’ impeccable performance. Which is a joy and a privilege to behold, and might yet prove to be the performance of the Festival.
Those who might have assumed Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie would be a nostalgic trip through the 70s will find its 2014 setting a reminder that Bowie speaks across many generations. Some might argue O’Brien could have used any icon and had the same story going; arguing O’Brien’s justification for Bowie is the weakest element in the script. Yet when Ziggy takes to the stage, you get it. And you need to get to see this show. Excellently written, exceptionally well directed, with a performance from Jones that’s simply out of this world, Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie is an utter, utter joy.
Falling To Earth - My Summer With Bowie by Eugene O’Brien, presented by Verdant Productions, runs at The Civic Theatre, Tallaght until October 15 as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2023.