Sunday, January 1st, 2017 05:47 pm
[personal profile] sfred and I just kicked off 2017 by going to see Lazarus at the King's Cross Theatre, the 'David Bowie Musical, inspired by the novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis'.

It's a very singular piece of theatre. It has a Brechtian sense of alienation, and I found it hard to engage with. Bowie has done Brecht before - Baal, directed by Alan Clarke and an equally singular piece of 1980s TV - so it's unclear whether this alienation effect is deliberate or, as it could be, the result of someone unfamiliar with how to make theatre work seamlesly. The result is, deliberately or otherwise, disjointed, and means that while individual songs like Life on Mars and Valentine's Day carry an emotional punch, they're not anchored to any deeper emotional content in the rest of the play. I was affected by them, but I'd have expected to be in tears, and I wasn't. That said, that may have been what the director was going for - I've felt the same about some very good theatre elsewhere, and this wasn't in any way bad. I'd just quite like to have been able to compare it with an alternative production that took a more coherent approach, and seen which I preferred.

The look of the musical, with a lot of the acting done against or on a giant video screen in the centre of the mostly bare stage, was very reminiscent of early 80s pop videos, which is perhaps unsurprising. I could imagine them all being shot by David Mallet, as many of Bowie's from the period were. In fact, the whole thing as a sequence of pop videos also had something of the feel of Absolute Beginners the Julian-Temple-directed partial Bowie vehicle that helped to sink Goldcrest Films in the mid 1980s. Like in that film, a lot of the individual set pieces in Lazarus are powerful and impressive in their own right, but aren't really anchored in the rest of the narrative (IMO, Ray Davies's Quiet Life is a perfect example of this). If, in 50 years' time, what remains of Lazarus is a few online clips of some of the songs, it will seem as though the whole piece must have been amazing, where here and now it seems just the sum of its parts.

Bowie's songs are, of course, great, but the dialogue is unmemorable and creaky in places, and contributed to the slight feel of this being someone's A-Level Theatre Studies project. I realise that I'm sounding as though I didn't like it, but I did. If I'd missed it, and someone had later told me about it, warts and all, I'd still be kicking myself that I hadn't seen it. I've seen very little else like it, and I didn't feel restless in my seat once. Lazarus is an experience that I'm very glad I had, and will remember for a long time to come. I just can't escape the feeling that, good though it was, it could have been awesome.