Friday, 20 April 2018

REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell at the Dominion Theatre

There are two things in the theatre world that terrify the life out of me. Jukebox and Musical - I wasn’t a fan of ‘We Will Rock You’ and I’m certainly not a fan of ’Mamma Mia!’ I hold a lot of trepidation for ’Bat Out of Hell’. 

Going into the theatre on opening night the stars are out in full force. ‘Bat Out of Hell’ returns to The Dominion after a successful run at the London Coliseum and abroad to great anticipation. Reviews have been great and glittering but will it impress an anti-jukebox musical man like myself? 

The music is written by one of the greatest composers this century has seen, Jim Steinman; I was brought up on his music sung by the the vocal powerhouse that is Meat Loaf; him, mixed with Tina Turner and Price were the only thing my Mother needed to keep me at peace. Later finding Steinman through Celine Dion I’m more excited by the music than anything else. The only downside I felt about the music is that some could have been edited. At times they were a little long (and that’s my only critique for the music). 

The storyline is utter tripe, a post-apocalyptic story which is a jumbled retelling of Peter Pan but focuses on the domestic relationship between the parents instead of the want to be a lost boy by Wendy. Structurally the piece is sound. Introduction to the normal way of life, then the villain, then the problem, then the solution, then the downfall, then the rise and then the new order being established; it’s still tripe though. Peter Pan/Romeo and Juliet/ Mad Max/ Warriors. This story makes We Will Rock You look like a literary masterpiece. Along with the storyline that’s as loose as a threadbare thick knit is the dialogue, holy mother of God. Can we have a jukebox musical that has a story which is worth the ticket price and isn’t a biomus* (Trademark portmanteau)? 

Bats fly over head on a projector screen as you walk in; the lighting is already superb and it’s clear from the pre set Patrick Woodroffelighting design is going to, figuratively, rock and it didn’t disappoint. Bold and alive this lighting took you to a Meat Loaf concert. Combined with Jon Bausor’s set design, which at times was a bit dated, they work in synchronicity creating one organic creature that leaked into the auditorium. 

The spectacle of the show is apparent from the start: all boxes seem to be ticked from strobe lighting to fiery pits. Nothing is missed except a blow up kitchen sink. The set is fantastical and the use of a live video camera to see what’s going on close up is smart but hardly innovative for 2018. Unfortunately the retro trend doesn’t stop there. 

I’m pretty sure when I was training at drama school I performed the same jazz
standards as I saw on that stage; the choreography was simple and, granted, effective but it just wasn’t up to par with other west end shows. It turned into a modern show with a dated stage and choreo. The stage, at times, harkened back to the Barbara Dixon’s and Elaine Page’s music video of ‘I know him so well’ from Chess - Not very groundbreaking. 

I really wasn’t buying into the show in the first act; some acting was a bit Schamckty seeming forced to put the songs in with the intent with which they were delivered. It wasn’t until ‘Bat Out of Hell’ closing the first act that I connected with it at all; but when a motorbike blows up and turns into a heart on stage, the little boy in me that fell in love with theatre comes out. 

Our lead man Strat (Andrew Polec) has a phenomenal voice. He’s been singing this part for so long and there isn’t a fault in his voice; it’s as if Meat Loaf himself was on that stage. Watching him is mesmerising and enticing; you can’t take your eyes off him but you need to when the others are on stage or you’ll miss so much

Christina Bennington who plays his love interest, Raven, is magnificent to watch and listen to. She clearly knows her own abilities and this show is a great showcase for her. She brings this Wendy part to life, but due to the story I only got a two dimensional version of a Wendy figure I know and love. This isn’t her fault though. 

Raven’s parents Falco and Sloan are played by Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton respectively and what a pair they are. Sexually frustrated and at a point in their relationship where they couldn’t care less about each other. 

At their daughter’s birthday they get very sexual and reminisce about how they felt when they first met. They are very strange parents. Vocally impeccable and hold their own on that stage. Sexton in particular reminded me of a young Bernadette Peters, with none of the annoying bad habits she has. A truly stand out performance from her all the way through. Fowler is a laryngeal machine that doesn’t stop giving consistency and a vocal you just want to bathe in. 

The heart of this spectacle is ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’. I know this song from Celine Dion’s 1996 album ‘Falling Into You’; it’s wonderfully sung in four part harmony. It was a build up from all the hardship of the love story and it sat perfectly; cathartically letting the audience hear this song in a way no one else has done it in the past. Magnificent. I may have got a little emotional. 

Bat Out of Hell doesn’t do anything new for the genre but it’s a sheer spectacle. Beautiful staging, magnificent lighting and performances of Steinman’s music you haven’t heard before. It’s a shame the story is utterly and truly terrible, but it didn’t fail to impress.

Music: Wonderfully sung by all on stage

Lighting and Staging: Symbiotic

Lead Actors: Ridiculously talented

Story: Tripe and weak. 

A Good night out: Absolutely. 

Review by Samuel Clemens

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: D25 Royal Circle | Price: £75 - £99.50
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