mon 18/10/2021

Adam Buxton's Bowie Bug, Brighton Festival review - a comic PowerPoint masterclass | reviews, news & interviews

Adam Buxton's Bowie Bug, Brighton Festival review - a comic PowerPoint masterclass

Adam Buxton's Bowie Bug, Brighton Festival review - a comic PowerPoint masterclass

The late great singer celebrated in style on a day when comedy is initially awkward

It’s a tricky business, approaching comedy on a day when a national tragedy has just occurred. Comedian and broadcaster Adam Buxton is aware of this. It was especially noticeable last night, with his show delayed as a direct result of the Brighton Dome’s extra door security, post-Manchester. As people slowly filed in to take their seats he patrolled the stage, acknowledging the events of the day before. His attempts to move into comedy were initially somewhat awkward, as if it wasn’t quite appropriate. It’s understandable. There’s a general sense of unsureness as to how to proceed. Are we allowed to have a few laughs celebrating David Bowie’s life following such awful horror and ignorant malice?

The answer, of course, is “Yes, we are.” Otherwise the bad guys win. And Buxton eventually, pre-show, has roaring good humour bubbling up by making an event of giving the audience his rider: a bouquet of flowers and his “very rock’n’roll” boxes of two varieties of yoghurt bar. It’s a simple tactic but it works, and then he can begin the performance proper. “I don’t think much of David Bowie’s new phase,” he says. And we’re off.

Adam Buxton’s BUG: David Bowie Special, to give it its full and proper title, see its bearded presenter deliver what is, in essence, a comedic PowerPoint masterclass, hopping randomly about the Thin White Duke’s career. It begins with the video for “The Jean Genie” followed by a preposterous surreal song, sung by Buxton, which makes maximum use of the giant screen behind him for visual cut-ups.

The format throughout is for Buxton to mine geeky Bowie minutiae, finding humour in the detail, while also acknowledging the talent of all involved, then lathering on silliness. For instance, he talks at length about the rather lacklustre 1985 single “Loving the Alien”, which Bowie, he explains, once said was about the relationship between Muslims and Christians. He then sends the whole thing up, deadpan, before concluding that, sadly, “'Loving the Alien' failed to prevent 9/11.”

He asks us to imagine what RCA executives must have felt when presented with Bowie’s Berlin albums, after the commercial streak of Young Americans and Station to Station, which came immediately prior to them. To illustrate the point he plays the moody electro-orchestral “Warszawa”, then offers us the video for “Be My Wife” in which, he suggests, Bowie, wearing a face of pantomime disapproval, looks as if he’s seen someone crapping on the studio floor.

The BUG shows thrive on YouTube comments and this Bowie special is no exception. The comment, “He is the tasty egg of my breakfast glory”, beneath Bowie’s melancholy 2013 comeback hit “Where Are We Now?” causes particularly uproarious laughter. And the cartoon Bowie sequences, created by BAFTA-winning animators The Brothers McLeod, and perfectly voiced by Buxton, are brilliantly on-point, especially one where Brian Eno and Bowie work on “Warszawa”, with Tony Visconti continually pointing out that he is also the co-producer, "more than people think".

In the end, when this show, which has toured regularly over the last year, should reach an emotive climax with “Heroes” and Buxton’s own tribute montage, its late start becomes a hindrance. People are scuttling off to get trains and Buxton seems to wind things up rather promptly rather than luxuriating. Nonetheless, his Bowie Bug is a conceptually smart, often very funny and occasionally touching evening out.

Overleaf: Watch the brilliant Brothers McLeod animation purporting to portray David Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti recording "Warszawa"

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters