Tag Archives: Enda Walsh

"Lazarus" at the King’s Cross Theatre

The starting point for David Bowie’s hit musical is Walter Tevis’s book, which was turned into a film by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell To Earth, which Bowie starred in. And heaven help you if didn’t know that. Lazarus is a sequel, brought up to date, to our own confusing times, following an alien stranded amongst us. Newton the extra terrestrial, stricken by gin-soaked delusions, is homesick and lovelorn. Much, or most, of the action happens within his broken psyche – and remember, this is an alien mind – with characters and events set free from time and described by him as “a dream, a delusion, a chemical belch inside my head”. In his desire to travel home, Newton’s travails are trippy, to say the least.
Given the title, along with Bowie’s untimely passing, it’s obvious that death is the theme here. Impressively, there’s nothing morbid or sentimental about it. Instead, it’s a remarkably objective questioning of mortality, in connection with cognition, that results in an intellectually engaging piece. The guess is that Bowie’s spiritual beliefs are behind a lot of it. Working with playwright Enda Walsh gives the book clout and aids the piece’s strongest feature – originality. If you feared a jukebox musical, rest assured, Lazarus is worlds away from that. There’s original music to enjoy and the Bowie back catalogue used is incorporated with wonderful ingenuity. It’s a shame that overall, (space) oddity is revelled in a little too much.
Michael C Hall takes the lead with a studied performance that’s impressively agile, utterly committed and shows a voice that uncannily approaches Bowie’s own. But the role of Newton overwhelms other characters. Only Michael Esper comes close, injecting passion and some much needed humour into the devilish role of a psychotic called Valentine. Quite what the character is there for is one of many opaque points. Strange it all is. Relentlessly. Ivo van Hove directs, relying heavily on a central screen and video projections (courtesy of Tal Yarden) that are the key to Jan Versweyveld’s cool design, along with the choreography of Annie-B Parson. It has to be stressed that the filmic extras are among the best you could see on stage. And the movement is brilliant. Van Hove creates startling images. But, combined with the uncharismatic temporary venue that houses the show, it’s all too reminiscent of a music video and strangely one note-monotonous in its intensity, despite all that novelty.
Until 22 January 2016
www.lazarusmusical.com
Photo by Jan Versweyveld

"Once" at the Phoenix Theatre

Arriving from America with eight Tony Awards to boast about, the new musical, Once, which opened this week at the Phoenix Theatre, is a fantastic show, impressive in its simplicity. This love story is a world away from the brummagem you often see in the West End. This is genuine, heartfelt stuff – and refreshing for being so.

Declan Bennett (Guy) and Zrinka Cvitesic (Girl) in Once. Photo Credit Ma...
Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić

The guy and girl are a Dublin busker and a Czech immigrant, played by talented duo Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić. They fall in love because of a shared passion for music. This is a modern affair with complications that make them chaste; their brief encounter is more about creativity than carnality, as she inspires him with the confidence to pursue his musical career.
Based on the 2006 film of the same name, spruced up with poetic moments from writer Enda Walsh, Once started out at the New York Theatre Workshop before its transfer to Broadway. It’s easy to fantasise how wonderful it would be in a small venue. But the atmospheric design by Bob Crowley, recreating an Irish pub where all the action takes place, is wonderfully intimate. The bar can be visited by the audience, and the actor-musicians, who perform marvellously, never leave the set.
Most of the songs, including the Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’, are marvelled at as they are performed: by the girl when she first hears them, a sympathetic bank manager approached for a loan (Jez Unwin providing some much needed comic relief) and the studio manager as the band make their demo tape. It’s key to the piece’s charm – the invitation to revel in creativity. Behind this is the beautiful score written by Glen Hansard and Markèta Irglovà. A mix of folk-inspired tunes, performed with a raw energy that is infectious. Instantly appealing, and with the potential to grow on you – these are songs you will want to hear more than once.
Until 4 July 2014
oncemusical.co.uk
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Written 12 April 2013 for The London Magazine

“Penelope” at the Hampstead Theatre

Ever wondered what Penelope’s suitors got up to during Odysseus’ absence? We know they were swiftly dispatched on the traveller’s return, punished for making a mess of the house and forcing his wife into all those pointless hours over the loom. But Enda Walsh’s Penelope takes a deeper look at these men in a startlingly novel play that reimagines Homer’s world.

To add tension, those hoping to step into Odysseus’ conjugal sandals know he is about to return and how he will punish them – the Gods have delivered a barbecue they will be roasted on. Penelope’s beaus have decamped to a drained swimming pool from where they serenade her via CCTV.

In a series of brave performances the cast declare their love and Walsh investigates the limits of their language. Ageing lothario Dunne fancies himself as a poet, but Denis Conway’s spirited performance has his speech degenerate into anger. The elderly Fitz (Niall Buggy) flirts with philosophy. His speech is moving, but only shows how empty words can be.

A third attempt is the unluckiest of all. Karl Shiels’s Quinn performs a manic mime act with impressive comedic prowess but it’s the last straw for his rival Burns (Aaron Monaghan) – he may look like “an emaciated kidney after a long day’s filtering”, but grasping that love can exist even in this strange place makes the lies they are all telling intolerable.

It’s part of Walsh’s point that none of these men are likeable. Faced with these serenades anyone would take up the shuttle. The open question – are they irredeemable? Unfortunately, with little empathy towards them, no matter how unusual Penelope is, the play struggles to engage you.

It’s easy to see why so many admire Walsh. He is a writer never short of ideas with an exciting grasp of rhythm. His bold voice is sometimes obscene and scatological, mostly for comedic effect, but there’s intelligence here so fierce it can be overwhelming. Having been so successful on tour, this London run of Penelope at Hampstead allows the capital’s audiences a valuable chance to see an award-winning play.

Until 15 March 2011

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Robert Day

Written 17 February 2011