Bowie Experience - New Wimbledon Theatre
There is The Bowie Experience, headed by Laurence Knight, which has apparently been doing the rounds since 1997. And then there’s Bowie Experience, an entirely separate enterprise run by an organisation called MRC Presents (thus, technically, their show is ‘MRC Presents presents Bowie Experience’). There are, as one might expect, quite a few David Bowie tribute acts out there, including Pop Up Bowie, Bootleg Bowie UK and Absolute Bowie. Bowie Experience, without the ‘The’, seems to be an imitation of an imitation. It’s not a train smash but at the same time, it ultimately doesn’t quite do David Bowie (1947-2016) justice. Then again, it didn’t appear to be trying to, with Oliver Slee, Bowie Experience’s frontman, making it clear that the show isn’t an attempt at replicating a David Bowie gig, but more of an opportunity to celebrate the great man.
As far as I am able to determine (the trouble with writing about something that has neither programme nor QR code to a digital programme nor a website that actually lists who’s who), the other on-stage people were musical director Tim Wedlake on lead guitar, Darren Jones (guitar), Lidia Cascarino Close (bass guitar), Paul Gill (drums), Martyn Cooper (keys), Charlotte-Elizabeth Leighton (vocals and percussion) and Jemma Love (vocals and saxophone). Corrections to this are more than welcome.
The band played more than competently, with only the occasional backing track used. Leighton’s vocal performance in ‘Under Pressure’ provided more vocal clarity than main man Slee did for the evening. For the more celebratory songs, the audience, determined to enjoy themselves on a Friday night at the New Wimbledon Theatre – a venue that ordinarily prides itself on its announcements to turn mobiles off and remain seated for the duration of the performance – carried Slee. In the slower numbers his voice turned out to be too reedy for the gravitas that Bowie himself provided.
Indeed, I started to get the feeling part way through the second half that the crowd had, in effect, taken it upon themselves to entertain themselves. The first half closed out with ‘Rebel Rebel’, and while it was mildly amusing to see a largely older audience singing lines like, “Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress / Rebel rebel, your face is a mess”, it was nothing compared to the yo-yoing of the second half: they wanted to stand, and did so, but never for very long. ‘Let’s Dance’, Slee declared. All I will say is that ‘dance’ wasn’t strictly, or even liberally, defined.
Someone somewhere put together what is presumably quite a stunning set of still and moving images, which were projected on to a large screen but at the performance I attended was largely obscured by the brightness of the stage lighting. There are various costume changes throughout the evening, and Slee does well to visually portray the different guises of Bowie over the decades. As someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time listening to the Bowie back catalogue, the show served as a nice reminder as to how eclectic his material overall was. The target audience loved it and came away happy, which I suppose is the most important thing.