Play Reviews - February 2005

(We Were) Ziggy's Band

Oaklands Community School, Southampton

By Graham Cole

"(We Were) Ziggy's Band" Oaklands Community School, Southampton. Thursday, February 3rd 2005

So, a year on from the initial read-through and much changed since then, Mark Wheeller's new play "(We Were) Ziggy's Band" has played its opening night, performed and tecchied brilliantly by members of Oaklands Youth Theatre. This is a play that Bowie fans, and others too, should try to see, either here in Southampton over the next two nights, or elsewhere in the future (the group hopes to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it would surely go down a storm).

Rock music fandom has grown into its own kind of cult over recent years, and the appearance of "High Fidelity" (written by the same author, Nick Hornby, of course, whose "Fever Pitch" was one of the inspirations for Mark to create "Ziggy's Band"), both in it's original text, and later in film form, has shown to us obsessives (and, let's be fair, to the not-so-mad as well) the reasons why being able to explain what label some obscure no-higher-than-34-on-the-charts single was on gives us such a quiet, but fulfilling thrill. Like the beautiful scene in "Diner" where Shrevie screams at his uncomprehending girlfriend (Ellen Barkin) that James Brown records do NOT belong in the jazz section of his carefully arranged record collection, so "Ziggy's Band" captures a similar obsessive excitement, in this case of young Shakey Threwer's first brush with all things Ziggy.

Danny Sturrock, commanding in the role of the older Shakey, and resplendent in his glorious costume, leads us from stage to stage through the documentary that may have been Mark's younger (or other??) life. The closeness to fandom is all there. We find ourselves almost walking into Shapes record shop in Thornbury (I wonder if it's still there in these days of impersonal megastores??), and secretly agreeing with Shakey's observations on the minutiae of the label/title/actual sung lyrics of Peter Noone's "Oh You Pretty Thing(s)" (on RAK, of course!). And there are plenty of other 70s references to keep you on your glam-rock toes, including direct and indirect notes to the late Mick Ronson (check out Billy Porter's MR hair-a-like!).

But if Danny, who is also responsible for some stunning choreography throughout the piece, shows great strength of presentation, and some fine singing (catch especially the closing live version of "Ziggy"), it is Adam Sanders, as the younger incarnation of Shakey, who really welds things together throughout, with an assured performance that belies his sixteen years of age. His delivery and timing are sound, notably in the band dispute scene (musical differences? nah, just about who gets top billing!) and he is consistently the lead in all his appearances on stage.

Mark's own enthusiasm is evident all through the play, whether identified in the fact, or hinted at in the fiction of the storyline. Mum and Dad Threwer, a very effective pair, are portrayed as the embarrassing parents that we've probably all claimed to have had at some stage, because they learn Spanish together at evening class, he is always harping on about his own youth, and she, well, she simply can't dance to save her life. In any case, the (thematic) aliens (or are they luminous earwigs?) scare the pants off them both, though we can suspect that, at the final curtain, they too are Ziggy converts.

So do go see "(We Were) Ziggy's Band". It's a fab piece whether you're into Bowie or not, but even more so if you are! It works as a tribute to the MainMan himself, of course, but shows just how a particular music, in this case that of Ziggy being just the start to Mark's lifetime following of the career of David B, can lead someone into the exciting, and vaguely clandestine world of music obsession. And in the end, we, the audience, perhaps getting a little obsessive ourselves by now, are left hanging over the edge of the fandom abyss, because we never do get to hear "Monkey's Revolt". Whatever did happen to the rock operas the author wrote back in those halZiggyon days, I wonder?

- Opening Night Comments -

Writer: Mark Wheeller

Whoo... am I excited? It was amazing... one of those evenings I'll never forget...

We had a bit of a panic at the start as the guy playing the lead part... Shakey Threwer (singing in the Seventies special and narrating his and Ziggy's story throughout) was very late. When he arrived his excuse was the best I've ever heard!...

"I had no idea it would take so long to shave my legs!!!"

It took him 3/4 of an hour!!! I expect DB can relate to that!

So that was the start.

We hadn't sold many advance tickets so I was a little concerned as I thought by pricing "on the night" tickets higher I imagined people would get their acts together and book in advance... I needn't have worried... and unusually for a Youth type production the audience was made up of largely adults. Normally the opening night is bulked up by the youngsters from the Comp school we are attached to. There were some there... but LOTS of adults... all about my age... 47 (I wonder why?!!!).

Anyway the performance went beyond my expectations. I'll be honest with you, there have been times when I've been concerned that doing this may spoil my relationship with Bowie/Ziggy... if it went disastrously it would drown my memories... like it or not... it was a risk... and I treasure those memories... putting them up for public scrutiny is a risky and very scary thing.

In the event I needn't have worried. It was wonderful to see people sitting on the edge of their seats, laughing (at the right moments) and at times.

I could hear people near me saying "Yes I remember that!" people related to what I was saying!!! Yes!

It produced a feeling of shared memory... and as a teacher a production where suddenly I was on exactly the same wavelength as some of the parents of those I teach... what I great thing that is I think I'm saying something about the power of Bowie to unite... or the particular power our teenage memories have over all of us! One aim in writing this was to write a production that parents would enjoy seeing their kids in... on the first night this aim was achieved in full!!!

The audience loved it and were very responsive... more so than any of us anticipated. There was laughter and clapping, and the final moments left the audience wanting more... many rushed up to me afterwards to congratulate me... one who had just come to the UK said she had come knowing nothing about it at all and it was the best thing she had EVER seen! She knew nothing about Bowie and now wanted to know more. I think this is what I really like about it... that it has enabled me to share my enthusiasm with others and seeing others feel the feelings I've had to the extent that they are really relating to him (and me!). The cast were all a little suspicious about the music... it has now become part of their teenage years and (like me before) will have a special place for them... I'm delighted about that.

Just as I was leaving one of the cast asked me to give it an "out of ten" (something I often ask of them after a rehearsal?) I am always reluctant to give a first night too high a score for fear of making anyone in the cast complacent... but I said 11/10... no doubt about it.. and Edinburgh must now be a realistic proposition... I think we will be asked to perform it again... I think the cast are in love with it... and I don't think that it will be the end of it at the end of this week... I am determined that it shouldn't be.

One guy whose opinion I respect (one of the directors of two of my plays which tour professionally) and he is not a Bowie fan said he thought it was the best, most complete thing I've written. It's strange... I didn't think it would be... I was worried it was going to be seen as babyish... but it did work (tonight) here's hoping for the next two nights. We have the local Southern paper in tomorrow night to review it for the paper and a competition... it will be very interesting what they make of it... can't wait... shame I can't cut straight to tomorrow night!

Below is a note I had from a fellow Drama teacher who brought a group of kids to see it. This is the first reaction I've had from someone else.

I go to bed... dreaming of Ziggy playing his guitar... (even though when Bowie sang it he never did... always thought that was one of those ambiguities about whether he was or wasn't Ziggy... perhaps it was Ronson after all!!!)

Playwriter: Mark Wheeller


..."Ab fab ... loved it. Spoke briefly to the kids who loved it too. I really wish that we had got the three minibuses full. So much to learn and admire. Really good. So many others would have loved it. Well done." - Neil Phillips.


I thought that the entrance of the 'Jean Genie' was very funny and, although repeated, never lost it's humour. I think that the idea of having two eras interacting was not only very clever, but also very funny. I think that funniest character in the play was Shakey's father. This character was very stereotypical at first look, but managed to deal plenty of jokes in every scene he was in. I think that overall the production was one of the funniest I've seen and proved to deliver a fantastic tribute to David Bowie. - Martin Humphries (Year 10 student).



The quirkily, original 'Ziggy's Band' manages to be funky, funny and factual while exploring a time in our lives when being the next 'Ziggy Stardust' was achievable. I thought the play was brilliant, all the actors were great, especially mum, dad and of course Jean Genie!

Mark Wheeller's latest offering looks at teenage dreams in an Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz kind of way with an excellent portrayal of the animated characters.

The play opens at a 'Tonight Matthew I'm going to be....' type of show with avid Starman fan Shakey Threwer imitating his hero.

While he awaits the results the audience is whisked back in time to the early 70's to Shakey's childhood memories.

Set to a soundtrack from Bowie's glam rock era the show follows Shakey's band, The Luminous Earwigs, quest for stardom alongside a biography of Bowie and the rise and demise of the Spiders from Mars, interesting for any music fan, glam rock or not.

After Shakey sells his soul to the show stealing Jean Genie the band falls apart and things go wrong.

Don't ask me to explain, it involves wanting to be centre stage, a rock play about a monk with bad breath, a jealous bully and a girl.

I know? I said don't ask me to explain but if it gets funding and you see it it'll make sense. Well, I don't know about the monk bit but it's fun!

Anyway, back in the here and now, everything turns out okay and there's a happy ending with Shakey even getting the girl.

Ziggy's Band is great fun stuff, but be warned, it will have you coming away cringing at your own memories of singing into a hairbrush whilst staring at your reflection in the mirror.

Admit it, we were all going to be pop stars!

By Craig Morrison 2005 (Southampton University).



I took my husband and two teenage children to see this production at Oaklands School last Saturday night. It is difficult to please all of them in one go, but amazingly "Ziggy's Band" did just that.

The play is based on the life of a fan of David Bowie's during the 1970's. This subject could have been a complete failure for my teenage children, but it wasn't...

My son identified with Shakey (the main character) as he discovered what kind of music he liked and went through all the insecurities of adolescence. He laughed his way through the entire production.

My daughter loved the music - she is a fan of Bowie after seeing him in 'Labyrinth' and she also related well to Shakey's older sister. She thought the character of the Jean Genie was hysterical. She was the only one who guessed the twist in the tail.

As for my husband, he used to work in a theatre as a technician and lighting designer, so is very difficult to please. He loved the music but felt there could have been more of it. Having said that, he thought the production was excellent - the performances were polished and the backstage crew understood well how to use the equipment. High praise indeed.

So what did I think of it? All I can say is that I was really impressed. The plot hung together well and all the performances were excellent.

Well done to writer and director Mark Wheeller - we are all certain that this production has an excellent chance of future success.

By Cathy Wingate - February 7th 2005


Ziggy's Band was awesome. The script was quick, witty and handled with ease by the Youth Theatre cast. Moments of comic genius came thick and fast. The cross-cutting between the present and the seventies was inventive, with the modern Shakey amusingly changing his past when it suited him. The seventies' feel was firmly embedded in the text and costumes.

The piece works on so many levels, engaging those who experienced the music first (or second time round) to those who had not heard it before. I am sure that a whole new group of Bowie fans will emerge as a result.

Ziggy's Band will transfer well to Edinburgh and cordially invite a pre-excursion performance to come to Bitterne Park School (Arts College). - Neil Phillips


"Ziggy's Band" the day after the final(?) night.

It's the morning after the final night. As I sit down here writing this, my son (12 year old Charlie, who played the Jean Genie in our production) sits upstairs playing on his computer listening to Aladdin Sane... by choice!!! I never thought I'd see the day. His "confession... that he actually liked David Bowie came on Wednesday morning at breakfast when the rest of the family had left the table. Last night as our cast sat round a table in a Southampton Chinese Restaurant (Charlie Chans - check it out!!!) a great moment occurred where much like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting they went one by one round the table saying my names whatever their name is and I like David Bowie!!!

The last night was a fab evening... three Bowienetters attended, which added to the excitement. The performance had the fizz I remember from the first night. The Jean Genie was greeted by shrieks of delight every time he appeared... and a round of applause as he disappeared. That happened on the final two nights actually... and my Charlie loved it!!!

At the end the clapping and cheering seemed to go on forever drowning out The Pretty Things Can Go To Hell blasting out from our PA. Another very special evening to remember... my young cast did me... and David very proud. They have worked SO hard to enable me to fulfil my dream... I can't thank them enough... Thank-you is not sufficient... but THANKS!!!

My daughter sits behind me (10 year old Daisy) she is reading the script trying to re-live moments from the performance she saw last night... which to her surprise she loved! She's seeing if there are any differences she can spot.

We all have a determination to take this forward. Afterwards on each evening my hand was taken firmly by so many people and I was told how wonderful it was. We have to perform it elsewhere... and I've just opened an email from a teacher asking if she can perform it. There is some work to be done on the script to shorten it and tighten it up... then some work on permissions for the songs in non-school venues... then we really can see a trip to Edinburgh on the horizon. Our hopes are high... we are even considering a trip to the US to perform it in a Performing Arts School... ours has just been granted Arts Status. All is VERY exciting... Ziggy lives... and we aim to make him play guitar to the next generation! Very pleased I did this... a labour of love... thanks to all those who came to the performances.

By Mark Wheeller.



"(We Were) Ziggy's Band" Oaklands Community School, Southampton, Friday February 4th 2005 (second night)

Jean Genie is alive and well and living in Southampton!

The second night of Mark Wheeller's brilliant new play "(We Were) Ziggy's Band" amazingly saw an even better performance yesterday at Oaklands Community School Theatre in Southampton, and what a particular triumph for not-so-little Charlie Wheeller (son of) who gave a fantastic performance as Jean Genie.

The first night's cheering audience reception had allayed some of the author's worries about how well this work would go down with the audience, but the packed houses on these two evenings have loved the multi-media experience so much.

And not only was Jean Genie on top form, but Aladdin Sane-faced older Shakey Threwer was so much stronger last night, particularly with his live vocal renditions of some of the great Bowie tunes that form the loving backbone of the play. Once again the interaction between the characters gives the play a lyrical strength, and enables a depth to the players' interpretations of their roles. I loved yet again the entirely appropriate Dennis Potter style of action, in rhythm with the songs (cf. "Pennies from Heaven" and "The Singing Detective"), with one fabulous family tableau which looks so effective (though I would even ask for more by suggesting the actors mouth the lyrics as they dance together).

We could once again concentrate on all those glorious time-references, with name checks going to almost forgotten contemporaries like Pickettywitch, Alvin Stardust and Noel Edmonds, and thoughts of Minty Fudge Caramacs (nah, you can't get 'em any more!) accompanying a wonderfully hilarious scene in which Shakey's friend Buddy Meecher admits to buying a copy of "Jackie" (ah, yes, I remember!) for the Bowie pics inside.

And "(We Were) Ziggy's Band" really is a brilliantly warm tribute to David, from a fan who has lived through thick and thin with him (he even admits to initial reservations about the "Ziggy Stardust" album (though he adores the album title) and who comes out today as one of his, and Ziggy's, staunchest listeners.

So we have one more performance to look forward to tonight, before the play rests in sure anticipation of the Fringe at Edinburgh (and hopefully elsewhere - I'd love to see this performed by Bowie-fan thesps, even if they are 46 years old!).

It's a "Be there or be square" night, for sure, so try to make it to the show if you possibly can. And for me, quite certainly, Jean Genie will stay firmly in the (sub?-)conscious after last night, popping up magically to grant Eed Sud his three wishes, and to ensure in such convincing fashion that Shakey gets his girl, and that they thus become the closing curtain's very pretty things.

By Graham Cole


Review: ((We were) Ziggy's Band, February 3rd 2005)

I have to own up to a certain bias here - not towards the cast, but the theme - that is "David Bowie". I was 14 when "Starman" was released, and I am still a Bowie fan 33 years later, with virtually every one of his albums in my CD collection (there are 1 or 2 exceptions, but that's another story!).

So I couldn't help thinking during "Ziggy's Band" that I could easily have been Shakey, albeit with absolutely no musical talent in my case. There was definitely a wave of nostalgia in me throughout the play: humming, tapping, or quietly singing to myself during every number (I hope I didn't spoil it for the rest of the audience!). I was also intrigued to hear a couple of instrumentals from "A Clockwork Orange" (in the cinemas for 6 months of 1974?).

On top of appealing very much to my own musical tastes, there was obviously a good balance of corny humour. There were a number of contrived uses of some of Bowie's better known lyrics - some of them were obvious, but there were a few obscure ones that didn't quite jump out at me. I wondered how many of the younger members of the audience were picking these up. I know my son of 14 went in to the theatre with firm views that any music that Dad likes is obviously not going to appeal to him, and I don't believe that view changed; but he enjoyed the humorous bits, and especially liked Mr and Mrs Threwer.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgia kick - but I now need to track down a couple of songs attributed to Bowie that I've never heard of!

By Mike Sleath


Review: Ziggy's Band, Oakland Youth Theatre, Oaklands Theatre, Lordshill

Surreal and quirky humour sets the style of this thoroughly original tribute to David Bowie. Writer/director Mark Wheeller is well known to local audiences in a different vein, as the creator of Dan Nolan - Missing.

Shakey Threwer is a fanatical Bowie fan. His band failed to make an impact in his youth, but now, thirty years on, Shakey is singing as Bowie in a live TV competition. Some surprises await him - and the audience.

Danny Sturrock, the older Shakey, commands the show, combining worldly wisdom with a continuing adulation for the singer. Adam Sander plays his lively younger counterpart with assured confidence, whilst Charlotte Wells and Alex Chalk create hilarious cameo roles as Shakey's parents. A uniformly excellent cast supports the production.

Lighting, graphics and multi-media design add excellence to excellence. It is proposed to perform Ziggy's Band at the Edinburgh Festival (fringe), and Southampton can take civic pride in being so superbly represented.

By Barbara Godwin (Southern Evening Echo)


Just back from the third night of "(We Were) Ziggy's Band" and it has been a triumphant three nights for Mark Wheeller and his Youth Theatre group who have done him proud with their performances of his latest play. If you missed the play, it should surely go to Edinburgh (they have plans!) so be sure to catch it there or look out for future listings - Graham Cole