Monday, 11 January 2021

REVIEW: Lazarus at the Kings Cross Theatre, streamed on Dice.FM

Ziggy Stardust was the 1st album I ever bought back in 1972 and we saw David Bowie at Wembley in 1985 in Live Aid and 1987 in the Glass Spider Tour and in 2002 at Old Trafford cricket ground in the pouring rain. I also remember clearly the moment I heard he had died while driving to work five years ago this week, so having missed his final work Lazarus at the pop-up theatre at Kings Cross in 2016, I was excited to catch one of the limited scheduled streams on the anniversary of his death of the archived recording of the show. The 1976 film The Man who fell to earth also had left a strong memory from seeing it at the cinema at the time as one of the oddest films we have seen but Bowie's charismatic bizarre creation of Newton left its mark. Lazarus is presented as a sequel to the film with Newton still a lost alien marooned on earth so you have to expect that it would feel odd.

Set in his apartment in a pale brown wash with large windows through which the nine-piece band could be seen, the design by Jan Versweyveld is a curious creation, as if it is filmed inside a cardboard box. However this bland background provides a screen on which projections overspill from the large LED screen centre stage and from behind which characters emerge as if stepping out of the TV. It is clear that much of what we are watching is in his head fuelled by gin and on the verge of madness from his sense of isolation on earth but the result is at times bizarre and confusing. My sense is that the intense rock music and visually intriguing imagery would have worked better in a live venue than on a streamed small screen which flattens and deadens the experience. 

The script by Enda Walsh focuses on Newton's lost love of Mary Lou as he yearns for a way home but has given up his business interests and in his head Imagines a young girl who offers to guide him home. Though the story is about lost love and friendship and there is a sad mournful tone to the whole production, we don't really connect emotionally with any of the characters or understand why Ellie, his maid/assistant, should behave as she does, adopting the look of Mary Lou. As a result for much of the one hundred minute running time we are left to enjoy the more familiar Bowie songs included in the show and watch it more as a video enhancement to one of his concerts. 

Bowie's catalogue is so large and varied there are many songs that could have been included but amongst the 19 tracks in the show, the best known are "The man who sold the world", "Changes", "Absolute Beginners", "Life on Mars", "All the young dudes", "Sound and Vision" and "Heroes" and it is of course delighted to hear them again. Indeed when Michael C Hall sings as Newton he occasionally sounds like he is mimicking Bowie's delivery. 

Sophia Anne Caruso plays the Girl in his mind and delivers one of the show highlights a simply staged "Life on Mars" and provides insight into the story meaning in the climactic scene when she explains she " is not properly dead" and sings a new song, "When I met you" with Newton. Amy Lennox is Ellie, estranged from her husband as she obsessively adopts the style of Mary Lou to attract Newton and sings an enjoyable version of "Changes". The other strange presence is Valentine played by Michael Esper, as the bizarre serial killer who taunts Newton.

If you are a Bowie fan this is a show that is worth seeing although for some reason the stream is so far limited in its availability and should be given a wider distribution as it provides an insight, like his last album, into his mind and completes his life story. However if you want to simply enjoy the charismatic superstar at his best then rewatching the 1973 Hammersmith Odeon Ziggy Stardust show or the short Live Aid set will remind you of the talent that we sorely miss.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £16

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