Bummer and Lazarus

Jack Harrison
Big Egg Theatre
The Other Room, Cardiff
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The latest offering in the Spring Fringe season at The Other Room sees a visit from Big Egg Theatre, with a show which is on a brief tour before returning to Edinburgh, where it played during the 2018 Festival.

Were we not pre-armed with essential information, Bummer and Lazarus might come across as a standard piece of clever-clever sub-Beckettian experimental theatre exploring the nature of existence.

The action takes place in an apparent void, furnished with nothing other than an old boot and a mop and bucket. A bearded man stands with his head resting against a wall, obviously in some discomfort. A younger floppy-haired man bounces exuberantly in and repeatedly bumps into the wall whilst firing nonsensical questions at his friend, which are patiently dealt with.

It becomes clear that they are friends who are down and out, but survivors. Bummer, the senior partner, is wise in the ways of the world; Lazarus is his protégé, full of youthful vigour, but with a short attention span and a goldfish-esque memory.

The poster image lets us in on the fact that both characters are dogs. Further research throws up the information that there was a real-life duo of stray canines named Bummer and Lazarus who briefly became famous for their rat-catching prowess on the streets of San Francisco of the early 1860s.

The play gives us a fanciful snapshot of their relationship. Lazarus is constantly full of fundamental questions about their past and present, largely focussing on the empty feeling in his stomach. His vocabulary is more basic than his curiosity: eyes are "flutter-balls", clouds are "up-carpet fluffs". Bummer does not quite have all the answers, but is aware of the gaps in his knowledge. He finds himself expounding on the nature of self, the mind, the universe, knowledge itself and (almost) God.

There is a plot: the pair are both injured and trapped somewhere where they can't see the sun. They need to find a way out before they both die of starvation.

The ostensibly unequal relationship between Alec Walker's Bummer and Jack Harrison's Lazarus calls to mind classic comedy partnerships (Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy) as well as Godot and Steinbeck's Lenny and George. Harrison is literally puppyish and obviously cleverer than he believes himself to be, while Walker is the more solid, fatalistic presence.

Harrison is also responsible for the dazzlingly intelligent script, as well as the direction, which leads us at a breakneck speed through a feverish hour in the lives of these two marginalised individuals. As well as being impressed by their intellectual curiosity, we are moved by their obvious mutual affection.

Bummer and Lazarus is fast-paced philosophical fun and is certainly deserving of a far larger audience than was there on the night I attended.

Othniel Smith