Drawing inspiration from David Bowie’s oeuvre – including his songs, artistry, and characters – entertainer Sven Ratzke has created an audacious soap opera. It features alluring re-imaginings of landmark Bowie tunes which often act as vignettes as Ratzke takes his audience on an eccentric travelogue through time and space.
This is not a tribute show with mere singing of the Thin White Duke’s songs. Instead, the music is the basis for theatrical reinventions. Like a cracked actor – or at least a fractured thespian – Ratzke bounds onto stage resembling something between Ziggy Stardust and Roxy-era Brian Eno.
He’s gathered the essence of glam rock, distilled it and inhabited it, from the tip of his winged-boots, through his sequined and mesh costume to his wild ’70s hairstyle. An original song, “Rock ’n’ Roll Sandman”, grabs the attention more through showmanship and persona than memorable melody. Then inspired re-creations follow: “Lady Grinning Soul”, “Rebel Rebel”, “Time”, “Rock and Roll Suicide”, “Space Oddity” and a slow-burning rendition of “Heroes” that Ratzke makes his own.
The Dutch-German artiste is a born comic-fantasy storyteller and he takes his story from the cat-piss stench of London back-alleys to New York City, where, on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel, he meets Andy Warhol in the shape of a white rabbit who takes them through the looking glass. Then it’s a limousine ride to Hollywood and dinner with Elizabeth Taylor before heading to Berlin.
All the while, absurd tales – Baron Munchausen style – mix with reality.
Idiosyncratic off-the-wall comedy is clearly Ratzke’s strength, and here it’s polished to an effortlessly comical, self-assured and crowd-pleasing lustre. The spirit of both satire and David Bowie is alive and well in this show, with its glam-rock caricatures, sense of absurdity, and outrageous depiction of Dutch, German, British and American figures.
If you are after a rollicking, funny, vividly-hued adventure where you are not sure if you are a boy or a girl, then Starman is perfect. It is an immensely likeable work.
Sven Ratzke is presenting Starman at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre until June 25 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.