◼ WHOEVER GULLED DAVID BOWIE into endorsing the inconsequential and tedious off-Broadway production of Lazarus which opened in London this week can never be forgiven. It is a disgrace on two levels: there’s not an ounce of theatre to this live “play” in which Bowie’s songs are the sole source of inspiration. And the theatre’s sightlines are atrocious.
The only merit in the entire performance comes from the live musicians. The actors have forgotten any training they had, merely meandering around the stage, sitting or lying on it, semaphoring superficially; the script, “a new story” written by Enda Walsh with Bowie, hasn’t the first idea about how to deliver their characters; and the plot moves no further than it was left in the book by Walter Tevis and the cult film on which Lazarus bases its existence, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed brilliantly by Nicolas Roeg and starring Bowie. In this musical claiming to be a “sequel”, after two mind-numbing hours nothing has been advanced for the immortal Earth-bound alien Thomas Newton who lives on gin and television.
It creaks like a period piece of sci-fi by ignoring the major technologies that have transformed fiction no less than real-life during the past 40 years: the personal computer, the genome, the internet, artificial intelligence. This year’s TV drama The Night Manager, as an updating of John Le Carre’s 1993 novel, was infinitely more electrifying about the nowness of progress.
Nostalgia does find its place in the best new number Bowie wrote for Lazarus, Where Are We Now?, a deeply affecting tour of the melancholy old postwar Berlin which anybody who visited before the fall of the wall will never forget. Alas, here a culture gap yawns between the imaginative compass of music and the human efforts live onstage which all musical theatre must reconcile. Lazarus is a rock-world concept, bereft of dramatic chemistry, that relies on projected light to evoke the visual kaleidoscope of music videos, from which The Message is whatever key image the PR machine decides to promote. Theatre, it ain’t.
Worse, the biggest insult of all are the ticket prices in the 900-seat temporary installation calling itself the King’s Cross Theatre and being charged by Robert Fox and Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment. Quite apart from the external soundtrack from traffic and aircraft and railway activity, whoever designed this space and its sightlines has never sat in a theatre before.
From our so-called “TOP PRICE” * £65 tickets, situated about two-thirds of the way back, we never had a view of more than the top half of the wide cinemascopic stage. The angle of the raked auditorium was entirely to blame for placing at least six heads directly in front of each paying customer, and everybody else within range spent the duration bobbing their heads and weaving sideways to catch a glimpse of the stage and its often inanimate actors. The bigger disgrace is that other customers had been charged at “Premium” price levels from £160 downwards.
Frankly, I am convinced Bowie is turning in his grave at this presentation of his music.
* Surely a trades mis-description when there are THREE “Premium” price tiers above the so-called “Top Price”!
13 NOV UPDATE: THE LONDON REVIEWS
➢ Michael Billington, the Guardian: “an exploration of the existential angst that pervades Bowie’s music: this is the story of a man never wholly at ease in himself or his surroundings. I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than emotionally engaged by the story.”
➢ Susannah Clapp, The Observer: “an extended pop video. Woozy and rapt. Long on style but short on wit.”
➢ David Jays, Sunday Times Culture: “an otherwordly muddle… Bowie devised a portentous scenario; Walsh keeps it dead on the page.”
➢ Roundup of reviews in The Stage: “Pretty much the entire world’s press turned out to review its London opening. And everyone disagrees.”
LAZARUS FROM BOWIE’S ALBUM BLACKSTAR