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Something Something Lazarus (King’s Head Theatre, London): Review

something something lazarus Chop shtick. Daisy Amphlett as Della in 'Something Something Lazarus'. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Unorthodox, unfettered, and unbelievable, Something Something Lazarus is theatre at its most boundary breaking. WTF glory with Mensa finesse.

A company are about to open a show, but things are already not going well in Something Something Lazarus. Tensions, jealousies, and manipulations litter the rehearsal much like the detritus of the night before. But a large and mysterious package is about to turn the already unstable into absolute chaos.

something something lazarus

Chop shtick. Daisy Amphlett as Della in ‘Something Something Lazarus’. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Book

It’s really difficult to imagine how Something Something Lazarus came about, because on the surface you could be forgiven for thinking the creators, Broken Cabaret, have been gorging on too much radioactive bat shit before concieving the show. You leave the theatre completely discombobulated as not even a box full of frogs as large as the package that arrives on stage can even begin to describe the show. Something Something Lazarus starts odd but fairly standard, slowly slipping into something unusual, only to later explode into something completely barmy. But even though the initial symptom of Something Something Lazarus is one of being completely addled, in amid the show’s progresses you always get numerous hints of a great intelligence and vision in John Myatt’s book that underpins the entire thing. Something Something Lazarus is a bit like the first time you see a Picasso painting: it’s wild and alien, but there’s a lick of familiarity, sense, and sheer ingenuity that keeps you hooked.

The first half of Something Something Lazarus is interesting enough as it is, already subverting the musical theatre structure. Part metaphysical, part performance, and part rehearsal (and several parts gin), songs from the show the company are supposed to be performing, and some that are not, wash in and out of consciousness and context. You soon have no idea where the show they’re doing, the show you’re seeing and the one they’re rehearsing begins or ends. But even so, everything slides into place and, despite being a bit disorientated, you’re open to the story within Something Something Lazarus in a way that is unusual and unique to anything you might have experienced before. Then, without warning, Something Something Lazarus slams its foot on the throttle and the entire show turns into an insane burlesque that is beyond anarchic. Unusual musical turns into rabid cabaret, deeper exploring the characters and their motives. It’s gloriously fucked up, but exciting.

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Resurrection man. Daniel Cech-Lucas a Jay in ‘Something Something Lazarus’. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Yet, it’s clear that Something Something Lazarus isn’t actually some fractious narcotic fever dream. Myatt consistently shows an incredible intelligence and vision throughout the show. There are a gaggle of themes and abstracts that crop up everywhere, from Shakespeare, musical theatre and film trivia, to biblical references, that mirror and reflect what’s on stage, pushing and pulling the narrative in some rather compelling ways. The detail really is in the devil here, too, with exquisite flourishes such as random bursts of blank verse and/or rhyme, and some passages and exchanges thumping out a definite but hidden rhythm. Although, overall, Something Something Lazarus’ characters might seem a bit shallow, obviously constructed to be deliberate forces of attraction and repulsion throughout. But all have snaps of real emotion, depth, and pathos that feed the show. Furthermore, there are some real kicker lines that bring out a twisted comedy at every opportunity.

Something Something Lazarus is like coming across a live wire sparking and convulsing on the floor. It’s dangerous and unpredictable, and you probably should back off a little, but you just cannot help but be hypnotised and drawn in by it. If there’s anything “wrong” with Something Something Lazarus, it’s really that there will be many who will find this hard to fathom and get into because it’s so out-there in terms of structure and approach. But if you can cut through the crazy to find the sharp acumen beneath it, then you’re in for a frantic fantastic treat.

Music and Lyrics

Just like Myatt’s book, Simon Arrowsmith’s songs embody the same pioneering vision, decorated with lyrics by Myatt. The lyrics are unfathomably deep and complex, but garnished with a frank and fresh language that unashamedly prick out raw emotions and truths through sumptuous analogy. You might not be able to come away humming anything from Something Something Lazarus, but it’s not trying to ply you with catchy showstoppers to begin with. Instead, music is used to really explore the characters and their emotions, whilst blurring the lines of what the hell is going on. Although mostly ballads, where Arrowsmith whips in some tutti there result is complex and outstandingly rich harmony work that just adds to the already impressive quality of writing. Some of the songs might sound a little too familiar to the last – there’s a definite style and theme running between many of them – but regardless, they torrent a lunatic energy that adds to the maelstrom that is this fabulous Frankenstein’s monster.

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Only choking. Ralph Bogard as Dan in ‘Something Something Lazarus’. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Direction & Production

There’s a very purposeful “rough around the edges” approach to the show. We’re supposed to be witnessing a rehearsal spiraling out of control and ending in up some crazed ramshackle dream ballet cabaret, so sheen and meticulousness is something that can’t be expected. Yet, at the same time, it’s probably the one thing that holds Something Something Lazarus back. At times it’s difficult to hear Myatt’s inspired lyrics because the of the stage’s thrust set up, meaning that during decisions of cast singing un-mic’d, it they’re not facing your direction some of what’s going on can be lost a little, although the venue’s intimacy ensures it’s not eclipsed completely. But it’s difficult to know how much of that is the point and how much of that is just an unfortunate effect of the set-up. The conundrum of balancing the deliberately raw and unpolished veneer against actually trying to clearly articulate moments of the show is one that is difficult to solve.

But otherwise, Chris Howells’ lighting design really embraces the off-kilter quality of Something Something Lazarus, using many bold and vibrant washes to create an almost circus-like sheen. The sound design also merges seamlessly with the live music element, making these two elements feel at one rather than separate. Dan Phillips’ direction really fuels Something Something Lazarus, electric-shocking the verve but always with enough control to bring out the deeper and smarter thinking behind the show. It’s a very clever equilibrium that keeps Something Something Lazarus fitting madly from start to finish without ever losing its grip on its own IQ.

Something Something Lazarus

Viva la Diva. Valeria Cutko as Vee in ‘Something Something Lazarus’. Photograph: Courtesy of Scott Smith.

Cast

The cast for Something Something Lazarus are just as spunky and firecracker as the material itself. Valerie Cutko as Vee, last seen in the marvelous Grand Hotelis an ineffable gin-soaked diva. One big neurosis of accents and references, she swaggers with a tatty glamour, yet managing to conduct the dysfunctional group as self-imposed matriarch with charm both sincere and insincere. Daniel Cech-Lucas as Jay really comes into his own when revived for his surreal swan song. As well as sporting quite a fantastic voice, there’s an unbridled sense of fun when his character is let loose. Daisy Amphlett as Della is certainly as surly as they are conniving and fretting, but is another that really shines through in Something Something Lazarus’ throwing caution to the wind, turning into a vivacious tornado of sass in the latter part.

Standing out, however, is Ralph Bogard as Dan. Bogard is renowned for his campy exuberance from creating and hosting Unicorn Nights, and hosting Mean Girls ‘Bitch-a-longs’ at the Prince Charles Cinema, as well as a star turn in Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens in London and Edinburgh. Whilst this certainly is channeled into the flamboyant and frazzled Dan, there are moments in Bogard’s performance that are sudden smacks of real nerve-end pathos that are shockingly compelling. For all of Bogard’s rainbow-draped japery, their performance in Something Something Lazarus demonstrates that they are absolutely not to be underestimated as an actor with real emotive and performance clout.

Verdict

Strap in and hold on, Something Something Lazarus takes no prisoners in this no holes barred assault on the musical theatre format.

Something Something Lazarus plays at the King’s Head Theatre, London, N1 1QN, until 2 April 2016. Tickets are £10 – £18. To book, visit www.kingsheadtheatre.com.