Shauna Lewis

at 09:24 on 8th Aug 2018

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Exhausting, much like a puppy, ‘Bummer and Lazarus’ offers an energetic look at the famous pair of stray dogs from San Francisco as they search to escape back onto their streets. Taking an in-depth look at their bond and the need for friendship in this absurdist comedy, it examines the more human needs of dogs. It’s an unusual idea and although the audience struggles to work out what is going on initially, their characters become clear and eventually the morals becomes universal.

Jack Harrison as Lazarus was relentless, as the dialogue surged out of his mouth in a seemingly uncontrollable burst. His physicality as Lazarus was similarly energetic as he flung himself into walls and ran around in circles with the boundless energy of a puppy. He never seemed to flag and his character composed most of the atmosphere of the show: where his acting went, the tone followed.

This wouldn’t have been possible, however, without the dynamic between him and Bummer (Alec Walker). With Walker mastering the grumpy old curmudgeon Bummer, he coaches Lazarus through the early stages of learning and his anger eventually reveals how much he cares for Lazarus. Even though I can’t testify to knowing how dogs communicate, their relationship embodied what you would think the relationship between an older and a younger dog to be.

The writing was subtle in that it implied the bond between the two dogs rather than said it out loud. Words were unnecessary when it was explained through actions, and this made for much more heartfelt viewing. But when Bummer verbally expressed his care for Lazarus towards the end it wasn’t as naturalistic and it became too human. For me, the point was to emulate the bond of Bummer and Lazarus as dogs, so to do it in a too human-like manner was redundant.

Although this humanisation went too far towards the end, by using ‘Bummer and Lazarus’, the play expressed many of our own fears about being left alone and forgotten. We’ve all seen the videos on YouTube of dogs being left to die, and the writers knew exactly how to utilise that to their emotional advantage. Leaving Lazarus, naïve and vulnerable, you wanted to save him. At the same time it was easy to understand Bummer’s perspective and his choices: although their friendship was important they ultimately needed to survive. The play made it clear just how precarious that chance of survival was.

If you want a marker of how emotionally effective 'Bummer and Lazarus' was, I felt like starting an animal rights campaign when I left. The show mostly uses humanity in a clever way to emphasise the need for companionship, bringing out the emotional punch right towards the end, and leaving audiences reeling.

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Katherine Knight

at 10:02 on 8th Aug 2018

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I’m watching a dog have an existential crisis on stage. Classic Fringe. “I don’t know things. I’m worried,” he says, and I feel a pang of pity – the poor thing doesn’t even know what mortality is yet. At times ‘Bummer and Lazarus’ feels like what would happen if you took two animals and stuck them in ‘Waiting for Godot’, and at others this couldn’t be further from the truth - there’s no standing around in this performance. ‘Bummer and Lazarus’ captures what an existential crisis should really be – a confusing, messy affair which grabs you by the arm and drags you through an hour of self-discovery.

It’s never even mentioned that the two are of the canine variety – it doesn’t need to be. Such is the physicality of the Jack Harrison and Alec Walker and the mastery with which they capture the stage. As soon as the lights are up the two fall into their roles naturally (if not exactly with grace – one stares at the wall while the other runs into it). Jack Harrison, as Lazarus, in particular attacks the role with such mind-boggling energy that I feel exhausted just watching him – he barely stops a single moment in the entire hour. Walker’s role is more complex, but he handles it well – energy is substituted for complexity of emotion, although a passage about molecular physics is presented with such precise ferocity it left me reeling. He works well as a foil to Harrison, stopping the whole thing falling out of control – it’s the interaction of these two characters which really makes the script work.

I have never before considered what the universe must seem like from the perspective of a dog; but this is one of those scripts which has made me think a little harder, feel a little deeper, and be a little more compassionate. Particularly impressive is the way in which writer Harrison captures what it is to build up knowledge; simple concepts such as ‘me’ and ‘you’, which we take for granted, have to be built up from scratch, along with the names of the various body parts, before the existential dread is able to set in – and when it does it is quietly heartbreaking. It’s wonderfully absurdist, a beautiful, beautiful script that feels philosophical and existential all in one – and it’s a delight to watch.

In a rare quiet moment, Lazarus asks if people will tell stories about them; if in that way they’ll survive in every ‘now’ after this. Bummer’s not optimistic, but I have a better feeling about this one. I think it’ll be around for a good while yet.

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