Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the duration of 2016 you should know that David Bowie sadly left our planet in January. What you might be unfamiliar with is that prior to his check-out he was busy collaborating with renowned avant-garde director Ivo van Hove, and scriptwriter Enda Walsh on a ‘sort of’ sequel’ to the 1976 film, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’.
The plot centres around the characters of Thomas Newton (played by Michael C Hall) and his married personal assistant, Elly (Amy Lennox) who soon develops an unhealthy interest in the imprisoned alien. Newton (since he is unable to die on this planet) has a well-stocked refrigerator of gin and primarily spends his time pining for his wife back on his home planet. Elly, seeing her chance to get in with the irresistible drunken freak, soon begins to take on the persona of his celestially estranged wife, subsequently raiding his drinks cabinet and dying her hair blue to win his love.
Now this is where things get really strange. There soon appears another two characters – a young imp-like girl (Sophia Anne Caruso) and an unhinged psychopath called Valentine with a penchant for murder (played by the very handsome Michael Esper). As the story progresses, the audience are led to believe that these are simply figments of Newton’s damaged psyche – manifestations of good and evil perhaps. However as the scenes play out, these imaginary friends develop sub-stories of their own and it’s soon impossible to keep up. In hindsight, this is probably largely intentional and no doubt a reflection of Bowie’s enigmatic illusion (although when you’re two pints in and need the toilet, it’s mainly just frustrating).
Amidst the acting we are treated to a selection of Bowie’s back catalogue performed by a live band shielded behind Perspex glass above the stage. The first song performed by Michael C Hall, is Lazarus – Bowie’s earthly swansong. I think you would be hard pressed to find a dry eye in the house during this powerful opening sequence; ultimately you can’t help but feel as though you are at a David Bowie memorial concert. But as the confusing plot unfolds it feels as though the songs are loosely interwoven in a kind of chicken and egg predicament.
We are gifted new Bowie material, which delivered in traditional musical-theatre style falls short of the mark, making it all the more difficult to grasp the underlying meaning of a man reflecting on his life and death. There is nothing wrong with this show per se; the acting, the musicianship, and even the ambiguous script, are flawlessly delivered, but after two hours straight the tension becomes, well, a little too much. I wanted to like this more than I did – it feels almost sacrilegious to come away disappointed, but by the end I find myself wishing Newton would just hurry up and die so I can nip to the loo.
The entire cast is given a standing ovation and a huge image of Bowie is then projected onto the backdrop. The emotion in the audience is palpable – we were all here to say goodbye and respectfully in our own ways, we do. I am reminded of a saying I once heard, something along the lines of a camel is a race horse designed by a committee, which essentially encapsulates how I felt about the production. However in mitigation, I guess if you came to the theatre expecting a Bowie-like high you are bound to leave craving more.
Lazarus runs until the 22nd January 2017 at the Kings Cross theatre in London with ticket prices ranging from £15 – £95. For more information visit www.lazarusmusical.com.