“I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen”
Jim Reeve is currently researching for a book about Lazarus, which will also cover Blackstar and elements of The Next Day. The project has taken him all over the world to see productions of Lazarus, including to Australia, Brazil, Israel, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark and, most recently, the Netherlands. As far as we know he is the only person to have seen all of the productions.
A lifelong Bowie fan, Jim has spoken with numerous actors, directors, musicians and production staff to understand their approaches to the play and the themes that they have found within it. He has also extensively researched the rich background of Lazarus, its antecedents, its diverse and often surprising inspirations and, of course, the influence of both Walter Tevis’ novel and Nicolas Roeg’s movie of The Man Who Fell To Earth.
The recent Dutch-language production of Lazarus at the DeLaMar theater in Amsterdam is the first chance for two and a half years for audiences to see Ivo van Hove’s original staging, as previously mounted in New York and London. At our invitation Jim attended the premiere, read his review below.
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Lazarus premiere at the DeLaMar Theater by Jim Reeve
Last Sunday Lazarus premiered at the DeLaMar Theater in Amsterdam. In many ways it was like visiting an old friend, as Ivo van Hove’s meticulous production closely mirrors his London staging. Jan Versweyveld’s elegant set appears unchanged, Tal Yarden’s immersive video work displays only minimal modifications, the band has again been expertly marshalled by Henry Hey and even costuming and movement are familiar. The Dutch script, I was assured by the charming Chiel Roovers (a veteran of the New York and London shows, amongst others) is an excellent translation which adheres to the English text. But for all its similarities, this is much more than a mere recreation of the original production. There may have been no revolution but there has certainly been evolution, with a number of elements subtly sharpened. De Volkskrant headed its review ‘The Dutch Lazarus is better than the original” and on balance that’s probably true.
The major changes lie in the details of the performances, all of which are strong both dramatically and vocally throughout. Dragan Bakema is outstanding as Newton, a role which he took over at short notice after Gijs Naber withdrew. Whilst Michael C Hall presented a masterclass in semi-anaesthetised delivery through which his inner pain only surfaced occasionally, Bakema is much more openly tormented and, perhaps ironically, more human. By turns he’s nervous, fearful, hopeful, confused; but capable too of exploding with anger and maniacal energy. There’s a moment when he sits alone on his bed, wracked with anguish and giving way to heartrending sobs; but during When I Met You he briefly lunges at Valentine with the knife, with such intent that just for a moment I thought that we might be in for a very different ending. It’s a fresh interpretation of Newton, and it’s very, very good.
The other major roles are similarly reworked. Noortje Herlaar’s Elly lacks the unhinged manic energy of Cristin Milioti or Amy Lennox, instead conveying a quieter and more profound sense of inner sadness and frustration. As a result you feel her tragedy more deeply: you’re watching an intelligent, sensitive woman driven slowly to the edge, then rapidly over it. She sings Changes and Always Crashing in the Same Car with real depth.
Pieter Embrechts is a much more physically imposing presence than Michael Esper, and is a more dominant, commanding and sardonic Valentine. Whilst Ben is telling his taxi story Embrechts is shown in disturbing close-up on the screen, his mouth twisting in irritation and, as his fragile self-control erodes, his hands beginning to violently squeeze his own throat as if they had a life of their own. It’s a chillingly psychotic moment, although one can’t help having some sympathy for his feelings (if not his later actions) as Ben and Maemi are presented throughout as wholly self-absorbed: an alpha couple who know it and want you to know it too.
As the Girl, Juliana Zijlstra most closely mirrors the New York/London original, though she discards Sophia Anne Caruso’s New York sparkiness in favour of a more understated – and possibly more European – teenage truculence. Vocally she’s magnificent, bringing beautiful clarity to her songs and taking on Life On Mars? seemingly effortlessly.
Audience members to whom I spoke at the after-premiere party were uniformly enthusiastic, with the word “moving” cropping up frequently – pleasing to hear about a play which has sometimes been criticised for not sufficiently engaging its audience emotionally. The production is set to run for six months at the DeLaMar, with some 75,000 tickets reportedly already sold. It’s great news that so many people will finally get the chance to see a production that brings Bowie’s vision to the stage so accurately and well.
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Great stuff. Thanks Jim and good luck with the book.