There is, sadly, no getting away from it. Something Something Lazarus which has just opened at The Kings Head in Islington is a mess. A mostly well performed mess, but a mess, nonetheless.
The show, with book and lyrics by John Myatt and music by Simon Arrowsmith is billed as ‘a new British musical’ which also rather portentously ‘will change the way you consume stories with the tools and techniques of transmedia storytelling’.
I will admit that I had to look up ‘transmedia storytelling’ (Google it!) and after having seen the show I’m not at all convinced that Something Something Lazarus actually qualifies, which is, I think, symptomatic of the problems inherent with this piece which really does defy categorisation.
In its simplest form it is the story of ‘bear’, Daniel (a nicely voiced though possibly overly histrionic Ralph Bogard), who seems to own a bar which is also a cabaret club and is on the brink of opening (I’ve gleaned this from the press release and programme, as you’d be hard pressed to get it from the actual dialogue).
Resident lush, Vee (the wonderful Valerie Cutko who could probably imbue meaning to the ingredients on the side of a sauce bottle), is working her way through a litre of Gordons Gin whilst rehearsing a song – that for some reason needs a knife as a prop – with MD Della (the multi-talented Daisy Amphlett, who is also the actual MD of the show).
A large package arrives which everyone assumes to be a new toilet, though when Daniel’s new shag, the twink barman, Jay (a very active Daniel Cech-Lucas who appears in just his pants for a good chunk of the show as an obvious sop to the target gay audience), insists that it be opened, we find that the package is actually a chair once belonging to Daniel’s ex-, which signals that finally he (the ex) has moved on, leaving Daniel distraught.
After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and goading about his love life past and present, Daniel grabs Jay by the throat, pushing him back into the chair and strangling him.
Here’s where things get really weird.
The rest of the show (and we’re probably half way through) moves from something approaching reality, to being about Jay, and specifically to be inside Jay’s head, in the eight seconds which allegedly separate life and death by strangulation.
Finally, just before he dies, Jay comes to, and we re-enter the present, though I have to admit I’m not at all sure what was supposed to happen at the end, or indeed did. I guess Jay was supposed to represent Lazarus coming back to life, though it’s difficult to say.
This would probably have made an interesting, if surreal play. That’s the big problem. If you add music to anything, it stops being a play and the dynamic is changed. By its own admission this show wanted to be ‘a new British musical’. Well, I have some bad news. As a musical, it stinks.
John Myatt has a nice line in very funny dialogue – there’s a laugh out loud moment when Judy Garland in referenced – but his lyrics aren’t even pedestrian: they’re poor, and pretentious and, when allied with Simon Arrowsmith’s bland, featureless, astonishingly un-theatrical score produce songs of such stultifying opacity that you long for them to end so that you can again hear the characters talking to each other.
All in all the show has the air of a piece of undergraduate experimental theatre. A good cast wasted on a piece of writing which aims for a very great deal more than it is actually able to achieve.