This review was originally written for A Younger Theatre
Islington’s King’s Head Theatre prides itself on its record of championing untested, experimental theatre. It’s an approach that has won the hearts of audiences and critics alike and that has taken in shows like Joe DiPietro’s F*cking Men to wider audiences in the West End and on tour. The pub-theatre’s recent track record has been generally successful as well; Paul Minx’s The Long Road South and In Your Face Theatre’s Trainspotting are two fresh, invigorating, wildly different plays that have played at the King’s Head since Christmas. It’s a huge shame then, that the latest production to squeeze itself into this intimate backroom, Broken Cabaret’s Something Something Lazarus, is utterly desperate.
Something Something Lazarus is marketed as transmedia storytelling. It’s a tale told on a number of different platforms, with websites, social media accounts and youtube videos all fleshing out the live performance. It is a nice idea, but one wonders how many audience members have time to chase up the characters of the show they are about to see on tumblr beforehand. Without the background detail provided via these other outlets though, it is frankly impossible to make head or tail of Something Something Lazarus.
The live show is essentially a musical, with book and lyrics by John Myalt and music by Simon Arrowsmith. It is set in a seedy cabaret bar called Midnight Sun which is run by the waspish Daniel (Ralph Bogard) and populated by snarky pianist Della (Daisy Amphlett), David’s angry young lover Jay (Daniel Cech Lucas), and Vee (Valerie Cutko), a fading star who drinks gin by the pint and sways around stage brandishing a kitchen knife.
In the first half, the foursome squabble and bicker over Daniel’s love life, which has been unexpectedly thrown into chaos by the arrival of a chair – yes, a chair – in the post. After a repetitive, gabbling discussion, which is broken up by disjointed, incomprehensible musical numbers, Daniel strangles Jay for no apparent reason. The remaining 40 minutes are filled with a bizarre, alienating cabaret, compered by a frantic, choking Jay. If that synopsis doesn’t make much sense, it’s because the show makes even less.
There is barely a coherent narrative, little in the way of thematic development, and only as much character as the hard-working cast can squeeze out of Myalt’s messy, shallow writing. A show doesn’t necessarily need progression to work, but when all that is left is a confusing mish-mash of domestic drama, natty cabaret and psychedelic dream sequences, a slight hint of plot might save the audience from drowning entirely.
The cast give it their all, but wringing anything out of such an atrociously ill-conceived concept is impossible. Myalt’s writing, appallingly weak structure aside, is so stuffed full of aphorisms and symbolism that it frequently degenerates into little more than inaccessible streams of words. Arrowsmith’s music is tonally wandering and, aside from one thumping number towards the finale, entirely uninteresting. Dan Phillips’ direction is cripplingly adolescent, as the cast clutter the tiny stage and shout over one another incessantly.
Something Something Lazarus is riddled with impenetrable allegory, relentlessly unfunny and is offensively self-indulgent. The prevailing sentiment amongst those watching the press night performance was capitulated well by a man in the row behind me, who could be heard pleading for the curtain under his breath at every juncture.
Risk-taking is commendable and there are, of course, lessons to be learned from every failure, but Something Something Lazarus is such an unequivocal dud that it must seriously question Broken Cabaret’s credentials as theatre-makers. Don’t buy a ticket. If you already have, ask for your money back, spend it on a pint in the bar, and return when the King’s Head has rediscovered its programming nous.