Cabaret Interview Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Simon Arrowsmith and John Myatt: Something Something Lazarus

By | Published on Thursday 3 March 2016


I wanted to talk to someone from this show from the first moment I came across it, not least because it sounds so unusual – I had seen it described as a “new (kind of) musical”, and also a “broken musical” – and I was keen to find out what all that meant. Plus, I found the title ‘Something Something Lazarus’ rather intriguing in a way I can’t quite put my finger on…
So, to sate my curiosity, I put some questions to co-creators Simon Arrowsmith (music) and John Myatt (book and lyrics) ahead of the production’s run at King’s Head Theatre this month.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the show’s subject matter – what’s the story you are telling?
SA+JM: We’re telling a story about getting stuck in the past, exploring how the family and world we build for ourselves can be both a curse and the cure for this inertia. It’s set in the hour before cabaret bar Midnight Sun opens.

Performers Vee and Della are rehearsing a new version of one of their songs, at the suggestion of new bar boy Jay. Jay has brought in a younger, gayer crowd to the club, and he also happens to be sleeping with bar owner Daniel. The cash and attention is welcome but Della, for one, feels the crowd is not.

When, during the rehearsal, Dan receives a package from his first true love, it sets off a chain of events that turn the rehearsal ugly. A violent act takes us inside the mind of a character as they make a life-changing decision, all told in the form of a fabulous cabaret.

CM: What themes do you aim to explore with it?
SA+JM: As well as the concept of being stuck in the past, we were really interested in the idea of music as a life-changing medium. Songs have the power to transform, influence and change minds. We’ve both been profoundly affected by songs and performances in the past, and a lot of that has been in fantastic cabaret. We want to explore this world to see if songs really could save a life.

CM: Why is this musical described as ‘broken’? Is it a bit meta?
SA+JM: It’s called ‘broken’ for a number of reasons. The songs themselves are physically broken. In the first part of the show we hear sections and fragments without the satisfaction of a fully sung through song. The first full unbroken song happens about half way through the show and even that is partially interrupted.

Also, the characters themselves are somewhat broken; they’ve built this cabaret world to protect themselves, but it’s barely holding itself together. The cracks are beginning to show.

And finally we use this phrase because the piece is broken into two halves that have distinct functions. The first is like a play with music, with that music being performed within the realism of the story world. The second is a cabaret performance that takes place inside the mind of one of the characters (in order to help him decide whether or not he will take the life of another character).

We probably wouldn’t describe it as meta – it’s not a ‘knowing’ musical – but it is steeped in references that a lot of people will enjoy.

CM: It’s also described as a “new kind of show” – in what way is it new?
SA+JM: A new (kind of) musical – we’re playing with the phrase there a bit. It’s kind of a musical in the sense that it feels more like a play about the musical world, but then it has the cabaret component. Our director is rehearsing it like a play rather than a musical, with a lot more focus on character, backstory and story-world.

It’s a new kind of musical because it doesn’t follow the more traditional forms that musicals generally employ. Our characters don’t spend much time singing about their emotions or explaining the narrative. They use their songs to persuade, attack, or shift focus.

Then there is the digital story world that sits around the stage performance. We’ve created a whole musical world that surrounds the show online, allowing an audience to have a layered experience if they want. They can visit character websites, interact with them on social media, or hear alternative takes on some of the songs.

CM: What brought about your collaboration on this? Have you worked together before?
SA+JM: We’ve known each other for nearly twenty years. We’ve worked on a number of projects together during that time as well as supporting each other’s solo projects. We started work on a musical about nine years ago and that has morphed and grown and shrunk and grown again into Something Something Lazarus. The story is completely different, but some of the themes and a couple of the melodies have been there since the beginning.

CM: As creators, how involved are you with the production? Have you stepped back, or are you hands on?
SA+JM: We’re pretty hands on. It’s our ‘baby’ but we’re not delivering it alone. Dan Phillips, who is directing the show, has been involved for over 2 years now and is as much a decision maker as we are. We leave him to lead the team in the rehearsal space, but we’re always there to help. It’s a brand new musical, so things are evolving all the time.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
SA+JM: They are incredible! And that’s not just us indulging in superlatives.

The two experienced cast members – Ralph Bogard and Valerie Cutko – are both musical theatre and cabaret pros. They know this world intimately and inhabit their characters in ways that border on the scary. It’s wonderful to watch. They compliment each other perfectly and bring every ounce of their experience to the stage.

Our two younger actors are both destined for big things. Dan Cech-Lucas has such a strong presence on stage, he’s the master of nuance and yet can really let go when the part requires it. And Daisy Amphlett… the word we use most often is ‘wow’. She acts, she sings, she dances, she plays about five different instruments. She’s also our Musical Director. We’re sort of in awe of her talent.

CM: What’s next for the show?
SA+JM: We hope that it finds an audience during its four week run at The King’s Head so that we can build on that. This version of the show is about 75 minutes long, we think that works well for the story. It would be a perfect touring show as it’s so small and portable. It would be great to see it either in an earlier time slot or possibly as a site-specific piece in residence – which is something we’ve been talking about since we wrote it.

CM: What’s next for you both? Anything new in the pipeline?
SA+JM: A couple of things. We each have a solo project we’re working on. John is working on a play about gay parenting and the porn industry. Simon is writing a digital cantata. Then there is a joint new musical in the works. We wanted to explore working within a more traditional musical form for our next project. We also wanted to work with source material. We’ve landed on a story based on fascinating historical events that we’re sort of surprised no one has done before.

‘Something Something Lazarus’ is on at King’s Head Theatre from 8 Mar-2 Apr. See the venue website here for more info and complete dates and booking.

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