Lazarus at the King’s Cross TheatreCultureTheatre
Ostensibly, Lazarus shares its DNA with the kind of jukebox musicals that have clogged up West End theatres for the past few decades. However, the piece, a sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth co-written by Bowie and Enda Walsh and directed by Ivo van Hove, is as far from Mamma Mia! or We Will Rock You as one could imagine, the avant-garde replacing the tourist-pleasing nature of its sort of peers.
Trying to pin down the narrative is both impossible and, arguably, redundant. In the most basic terms, Thomas Newton (Michael C Hall) lurks in his apartment, unable to reach his celestial home, is visited by an unnamed little girl, looked after by his assistant and menaced by a man named Valentine. When van Hove abstracts the story’s themes, it is beautiful; when the production uses Walsh’s more traditional dialogue, however, it can be pretty cringeworthy.
Michael C Hall brings a palpable feeling of loneliness and pain to each scene, grounding some of the more obtuse instances when the plot begins to override the carefully curated sense of existential angst. The young Sophie Anne Caruso is also excellent as Newton’s muse; the most poignant parts of Lazarus tend to involve the relationship between this unnamed girl and Hall’s alienated alien. The song selection, though undoubtedly disappointing to some, also prevents the piece from feeling like a Bowie mausoleum, instead providing a celebration of his later work.
And there are moments, like Where Are We Now? and Heroes, where every aspect of the production, from Hall’s Bowie-esque voice to the stage-swallowing video design of Tal Yarden to Jan Versweyveld melancholy expanse of a set, come together to create something transcendent. Yet, sadly, after scaling these heights the play too often comes crashing back down to peek in on the domestic strife of Amy Lennox’s Elly or the unclear machinations of Michael Esper’s Valentine (the latter, at least, gets a charismatic balloon massacre set to Valentine’s Day late on).
It is, of course, fitting that one of Bowie’s final transmissions before his death at the start of this year is so damn difficult to understand – after all, a run through of his greatest hits likely would have made big bucks both sides of the Atlantic, but it would have hardly been an apt expression of the Thin White Duke’s career. And one could expect nothing less of a contrarian genius like Ivo van Hove. If hopes for a karaoke sing-along are left at the door, Lazarus offers one last chance to be confused and beguiled by the sorely missed man who fell to earth.
Lazarus is at the King’s Cross Theatre from 25th October 2016 until 22nd January 2017. Book your tickets here.