Kings Cross Theatre
8th November 2016
Book Lazarus Tickets
He is risen. Robert Fox was seen after tonight’s performance, enjoying a relaxing gin-and-tonic (or, perhaps just gin?) at the bar of one of the latest venues to spring up in the sprawling theatrical complex that is ‘The King’s Cross Theatre’, as the audience emerged, dazed and transformed, after the gripping experience that is David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s strangely poetic piece of music theatre: ‘Lazarus’. Fox produced it to great acclaim on Broadway (although he is not one to allow his views to be impressed by that torrent of accolades), and is shepherding its arrival in the UK with, it seems, equal success.
In the new end-on 900-seater auditorium, ‘Lazarus’ occupies a performance space much broader than it is tall: it looks like an opera set (by Jan Versweyveld, who provides decor and lighting design) in muted natural tones, barely furnished with a bed and refrigerator, a pair of curtains, a gramophone and record collection, with tiny doors to the sides: it is a wide open apartment, with two spacious plate-glass windows, rather like enormous eyes, beyond which – ranged across a raised platform – spreads the band. Between the windows, a central panel plays projections (by Tal Yarden), which occasionally overspill into the rest of the set, and ingeniously blend with the stage action, films that take us on a Jarman-esque canter through the archives of Bowiedom. While the music and fleeting images are intensely vivid and characterful, there is something anonymous, hopelessly bland, about the ‘living’ space; it’s like an apart-hotel, or some buy-to-let, or – more likely – buy-to-resell- quickly pad: yet it becomes the perfect foil against which to show off the glories of the musical score – a selection of Bowie’s finest works, most of which are here given refreshingly new arrangements (by Henry Hey).
In fact, what we have here is a clear successor to ‘Mamma Mia’, in that the show takes a seminal back-catalogue and lifts from it a mix of tracks to elaborate and decorate a strongly dramatic tale that happens to chime harmoniously with the personality of the musical and lyrical content. Here, our original tale is ‘The continuing story….’ of one of Bowie’s alter egos, Thomas Jerome Newton, last seen having a hard time of it (despite all that money) in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, the 1976 Nic Roeg film of the 1963 novel by Walter Trevis. The writer Enda Walsh, collaborating closely all the way through with Bowie, brings his masterful sense of theatre to exquisitely crafted inter-linked and sometimes superimposed scenes that explore, in magnificently non-linear manner, a number of ‘tableaux reanimes’, where the characters collide, react, change and separate, suggesting rather than describing the arc of the story. Or, a number of stories. As many stories as there are songs: 17.
The direction, by Ivo van Hove, is equally moderne, pitting a mixed ‘Just Act’ grill of styles against each other, enlivened by Annie B Parson’s art-house movement, and kitted out in An D’Huys simple but evocative costumes. It has the freshness of a festival work, the lightness of an occasional piece, it presents us with a string of delicate ‘moments’, never making any attempt to strain for portentous meaning or memorable shocks (even though we move through so many emotions, from bittersweet tenderness to bloody horror). Dramatically ironically, even though the band is stuck upstage, shut away at the back of the set, thanks to Tony Gayle’s supremely immediate and up-close sound design it is the music that is always foregrounded, with a lushly rich tonal world conjured from the 10-person line-up under the command of Tom Cawley (flamboyantly on piano).
The vocal performances from the cast are comparably heart-felt and meticulously executed: Michael C Hall does a fair job of recreating much of the individualism of Bowie’s lines, while Amy Lennox and Sophia Anne Caruso do as good a job at appropriating him as Lulu did when she made ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ a hit. Michael Esper is our hero’s evil nemesis in an impersonation heavily redolent of Mark Chapman (the murderer of John Lennon, who was gunned down outside his New York apartment building). And there is good supporting action from Jamie Muscato, Richard Hansell, Tom Parsons and Julie Yammanee as characters fleetingly crossing the paths of our lead characters. Finally, a trio of fate-like ‘Teenage Girls’ (the echt-fans of figures like Bowie) comprises the choric forces of Maimuna Memon, Gabrielle Brooks and Sydnie Christmas.
What does it all mean? Well, I think it all depends on your point of view. And upon your relationship to which bits – or all (if you are Boy George) – of the Great Bowie Back Catalogue. I mean: does anyone go to see ‘It’s Been A Hard Day’s Night’ to concentrate on the ‘plot’? Really?? So it is with this entertainment. It is an immersion in What It Is To Be David Bowie When You’re Not. If anybody has ‘a problem’ with that, then the best advice is for them to go and sit down and watch Richard Lester’s film and Stop Worrying.
There’s nothing at all conventional about this. It is festive. Riotous. Dionysian. Wonderful.
It is risen.