Review - Lazarus (King's Cross Theatre)

After a sell out run at the New York Theatre Workshop, Lazarus has opened in London, in a purpose built auditorium at the King's Cross Theatre. As one of the last projects Bowie worked on before his passing, this was always going to be a poignant piece of theatre. Based on Walter Tevis' sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell To Earth and the subsequent film adaptation which starred Bowie himself, Lazarus tells the story of Thomas Newton, an alien who finds himself stranded on earth after embarking on a mission to help bring water to his dying planet. Unable to find his way back to his family, and pining or his blue haired beloved, Newton chooses to while his days away drinking gin and watching TV in a stark beige Manhattan apartment. Drowning in alcohol, Newton dismisses everyone around him, from his old colleague and friend to his besotted assistant. But when an ethereal young girl manifests herself and vows to help him get home, Newton is finally pressed to face his reality and allows himself to express the anguishes he's been drinking away for years. But unfortunately Newton is also being preyed upon by a menacing man named Valentine who stalks ever closer as the story goes on, leaving a string of bloodied corpses in his wake. 
Photo credit - Johan Persson
American star Michael C. Hall, best known for his work on the popular crime drama Dexter, takes center stage in Lazarus as Newton, and gives a focused and intense performance as the miserable alien. His slightly stilted gait and mannerisms pair perfectly with David Bowie and Enda Walsh's pondering, omnipotent script. Meanwhile his distinctive voice perfectly captures the aching pain behind every word sung. Most affecting are his scenes with the Girl, played by waifish young American actress Sophia Anne Caruso. The pair share several touching moments, and their rendition of Heroes is a welcome moment of gleeful joy in an otherwise rather barren tale. Contrastingly, Michael Esper, the third and final American star to have transferred with this production, is chillingly convincing as Valentine, an initially unassuming presence who switches from lurking but reticent figure to deranged and compulsive murderer and back again with breakneck changeability. Each character is occupied with their own agenda, and at times it feels as if Newton's story is a small part of a much bigger series of events, echoing Lazarus' overall theme of helplessness and the way in which it affects every character in one way or another.

In addition to the unanimously exemplary cast, Lazarus also wows on several other levels. Designer Jan Versweyveld's abyss-like yet impressive canvas of a set and extreme and evocative lighting pair bleakness with abrasiveness to great effect, and fantastically inventive projection by Tal Yarden steals more than a few scenes. Lazarus is nothing if not in-your-face. 

It does seem at times as if the characters are simply occupying a piece of art, rather than telling a story set in the harsh version of reality which this sci-fi tale inhabits. In actual fact though, Lazarus is a spectacle set to music. Both a product of and an homage to one of the most iconic performers of the last fifty years, and in that way it is an irrefutable success. 
Photo credit - Johan Persson
Interestingly, the band in this production is placed purposefully on stage behind glass panels representing apartment windows, and although curtains are occasionally drawn in front of them, they are visible for a large portion of the show, thus making clear that despite all of the theatricality, it is music that is at the heart of Lazarus. Many classic Bowie songs have been reworked and re imagined with varying degrees of success. Changes fits perfectly into the narrative, as Newton's assistant Elly harangues her husband and expresses the detatche of her thoughts and feelings towards her own existence, all while she struggles with unrequited romantic feelings for her boss. Similarly, a gut wrenching rendition of Life of Mars lands perfectly when performed in simple yet evocative style by Sophia Anne Caruso's Girl as she sits staring out of a window and up into the night sky. And when Valentine declares Valentine's Day as an initially easy going tune subsides into something more manic and aggressive a real sense of awe is elicited. Even when songs fail to fit congruously with the story being told, the beauty and poignancy of each lyric, and the imagery which accompanies it, is palpable. 

It is hard to know how to respond to Lazarus at times. But perhaps that's the point? Newton himself is, after all, self imprisoned in what is effectively a box, surrounded on all sides by the hubbub of a city which has no concern for its inhabitants, disconnected from the world outside, and in that way the audience can definitely relate! 

Lazarus runs at the King's Cross Theatre until 22nd January 2017. For more information and to purchase tickets visit