Stage: Pierrot In Turquoise, Rosehill Theatre, Moresby

David Bowie appeared in Lindsay Kemp’s mime production Pierrot In Turquoise in the early months of 1968.

The musical had opened at Oxford’s New Theatre on 28 December 1967, and on 3 January 1968 began the first of three consecutive nights at the Rosehill Theatre in Moresby near Whitehaven, Cumbria.

There were just three performers in Pierrot In Turquoise: Lindsay Kemp in the title role, David Bowie as Cloud, and Jack Birkett (a blind performer also known as the Great Orlando) as Harlequin. The play told the story of Pierrot’s attempts to win the love of Cloud. However, Cloud fell for Harlequin, and was killed by the jealous Pierrot.

Kemp made his entrance by descending in a white hammock that represented the moon, while David, as Cloud, flitted about him. David wore a papier-mâché mask modelled on Kemp’s face, and the Great Orlando held up the frame of a mirror so that Kemp could paint himself with moonbeams.
Alias David Bowie
Peter and Leni Gillman

The costumes were designed by Natasha Kornilof, who would work with Bowie on several occasions throughout the 1970s. Bowie became the lover of both Kemp and Kornilof during his time working on Pierrot In Turquoise.

In these early shows Bowie sang ‘When I Live My Dream’, ‘Sell Me A Coat’, and ‘Come And Buy My Toys’, accompanied on the piano by Michael Garrett.

Programme for Pierrot In Turquoise, Rosehill Theatre, Moresby, January 1968

The performance almost didn’t happen, however, due to a situation caused by Bowie’s bed-hopping. He had gone to bed with Kemp on their first night in Whitehaven, before quietly going into Kornilof’s room.

Kemp confronted Natasha in the morning. ‘He’s my boyfriend,’ he told her.

‘No, he isn’t,’ Natasha replied. ‘He’s mine.’

David was summoned and there was a furious row between all three. David seemed little affected at the chaos he had wrought: ‘He was a bit like Stan Laurel,’ says Kemp, ‘very pale and slightly puzzled, with knitted eyebrows.’ That afternoon, with preparations for the first night under way, Kemp tried to provoke a reaction from David. The story is taken up by the Great Orlando.

‘Suddenly I heard this scream from the dressing room,’ he says. ‘Nobody paid any attention, we thought it was someone practising something, and I continued doing my stretches and bounces.’ Then he was called to the dressing room to find Kemp lying on the floor with blood trickling from his wrists. ‘I said, “Check to see if it isn’t Kensington Gore,” but it wasn’t.’

Alias David Bowie
Peter and Leni Gillman

Birkett applied a tourniquet to Kemp’s wrists, and he and Garrett took him to Whitehaven Hospital. Fortunately, the cuts were not deep and Kemp was bandaged up and sent back to the theatre in time for the opening performance.

Even by Kemp’s standards, the performance attained new dramatic heights. As Kemp was lowered in his hammock, the wrists of his Pierrot costume were stained red with blood. David was at last sufficiently moved to cry, his tears saturating his papier-mâché mask and causing it to disintegrate. The audience hailed the performance as a triumph.

Later that night, it was Natasha’s turn to occupy centre stage, when she gulped down a handful of sleeping pills. She denies now that this was a serious suicide attempt: ‘My gesture wasn’t as big as Lindsay’s,’ she says. ‘It was purely that I was in such a state that I kept on swallowing more and more pills. I couldn’t get to sleep and it was freezing cold.’

In the morning, both Natasha and Kemp observed that David was rather subdued. He spent the remaining nights sleeping alone on a couch in the farmhouse’s entrance hall. ‘We were both beastly to David for a long time afterwards,’ Natasha says. ‘He looked cold and tired and we were shouting at him, “Go on, do that, get that”.’

Alias David Bowie
Peter and Leni Gillman

Bowie’s complete run in Pierrot In Turquoise ran to 21 nights: 28 December 1967; 3, 4, 5 January 1968; 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 March 1968; and 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 March 1968.

Last updated: 15 March 2023
Travel: London to Whitehaven
Stage: Pierrot In Turquoise, Rosehill Theatre, Moresby
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