Written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh Director: Ivo van Hove
King’s Cross Theatre, London N1 (0844-815 7141) Until 22 January 2017 Running time: 1hr 50mins (no interval) David Bowie was always the most “theatrically minded” of rock stars, said Paul Taylor in The Independent, and Lazarus, which is a kind of sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth (the 1976 Nicolas Roeg film in which Bowie starred) sits squarely in that tradition. Bowie worked on this show the year before he died, and “how consoling” it is to discover what a “rare and mesmeric testament” it is. The production combines Bowie’s music – familiar hits and three new songs – with a script by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh, which takes up the story of Thomas Newton, the alienated alien played by Bowie in the film. First staged in New York (it premiered just weeks before Bowie’s death in January), Ivo van Hove’s “superlatively staged and sung production” has now been remounted in a “custom-built 960-seat pop-up” in King’s Cross. Spectacular to look at, and beautifully acted, it held me “rapt throughout”.
Not me, said Michael Billington in The Guardian. It’s a strange amalgam, this show: part sci-fi story, part rock concert, part video installation, part study in alienation. “While the separate ingredients are fascinating to watch” – and Bowie’s death of course lends proceedings a “patina of melancholy” – I rarely felt moved. Overall, the show is a disappointment, agreed Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. Even so, just hearing (“live and loud”) some of those classics – Life on Mars, Absolute Beginners, Changes, Heroes and, above all, the weepie Where Are We Now? – “causes a mist of emotionsteeped reverie to descend. For some, that’ll be enough.”
The best thing about Lazarus is the committed performances, said David Jays in The Sunday Times – especially that of Michael C. Hall, who makes a “memorable” Newton and has a fine, Bowie-like singing voice. The stage pictures, too, can be “beguiling”: a massacre of black balloons, blood that runs white like milk, a childlike rocket outline taped on the floor. But however enticing the images, it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for this listless “muddle” of a show. “Is there life on Mars? Possibly. Is there life in Lazarus? Barely a flicker.” An Inspector Calls Stephen Daldry’s “visionary” production of J.B. Priestley’s “sophisticated agitprop” – one of this year’s GCSE set texts – returns to the West End in a strongly cast revival. It’s still “astounding” stuff (Telegraph). character, from the eager young suitor to the down-and-out poet mired in his past. “The blazing ardour” of Grigòlo’s singing “reveals the poet Hoffmann as a life force, burning brilliantly till the last drop of energy is spent”.
Thomas Hampson plays the multiple versions of Hoffmann’s demonic nemesis with an unsettling mix of menace and charm, said Tim Ashley in The Guardian. The women are also excellent. Sofia Fomina’s Olympia, with her “steely, clockwork coloratura”, contrasts nicely with Christine Rice’s “truly dangerous” Giulietta. Sonya Yoncheva makes a heartbreaking Antonia, and Kate Lindsey is strong as Nicklausse, the “voice of reason that Hoffmann all too rarely hears”. All told, this is a “beguiling” piece of music theatre: by turns “witty, erotic and macabre”. Barb Jungr and John McDaniel: Come Together Jungr’s “thinking person’s cabaret” approach to Dylan, Brel and Leonard Cohen has been widely acclaimed. Now she takes on The Beatles, with McDaniel’s piano arrangements adding bold harmonic and rhythmic twists (Sunday Times).
Hall with Sophia Anne Caruso