Wednesday, 26 October 2022

REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Jim Steinman’s rip-roaring musical is tearing up towns across the UK before its residence back in London’s West End in 2023. Featuring the greatest hits of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, this all-guns-blazing barrage of rock is not for the faint-hearted.

Set to the music of the multi-million-selling album of the same name, this musical is loosely based on the lynchpins of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan; ‘Loosely’ being the operative word. For those destined to witness this show, you will want to read on as I attempt to untangle the plot of this show in as few sentences as possible.

Set in a post-‘chemical war’ city which is now run by the trump-like Falco (Rob Fowler), the Lost Boys are a group of underground dwellers frozen at 18 years old and helmed by their charismatic leader Strat (Glenn Adamson). When Falco's daughter, Raven (Martha Kirby), falls in love with the leather-loving, chest-baring Strat, all hell breaks loose between the enterprising control freak Falco, and the rock ’n’ roll Lost Boys.

The vocal performances delivered by the company, especially Adamson, Kirby, Fowler, and Sharon Sexton, are absolutely and unequivocally some of the best I have ever heard. Supported brilliantly by the vocally talented ensemble, the show relies on these piercing voices to bring this iconic music to life. Where this show falls down is in the work itself. With a plot as murky as a swamp, and far less captivating, it feels that these exemplary performers are doomed from the outset. The script is hard to decipher; is it purposefully wacky and tongue-in-cheek, or is the theatrical inexperience of Steinman the root cause? What can’t be denied is Jim Steinman’s ability to write, but the book of Bat Out of Hell lacks the pizzazz and storytelling that you find in his music work. The direction fails on the most part to pull out the small nuggets of narrative that are present, and so we are left with a 5-star concert wrapped in a 1-star story. The choreography in this show, adapted by Xena Gusthart, is another opportunity to add context to the story. Instead, much of it is superfluous and often takes away from otherwise fantastic performances.

The set design from Jon Bausor works hard to portray the dark and dingy world in which this production is set. The glass penthouse apartment of Flaco represents the old world, with the rubble and tunnels below a result of the chemical wars of yesterday. This is all paired with an excellent video design from Finn Ross. Whilst overused, the live video elements projected around the stage allowed the audience to get up close and personal with details that otherwise would be missed, bringing the skills and detail of television to the stage. Patrick Woodroffe’s lighting harnesses rock as if this is a stadium tour, and the production is all the better for it.

This shows faults lie beyond the control of the performers. Although the ensemble often lacked the strength of characterisation and of movement that we come to expect in a professional show, the whole company worked hard and brought the material to life well. Pairing these brilliant voices with the songs of one of the most successful albums in history gives you a winning formula. But some of these classic songs feel shoe-horned into the work, which further detracts from this outlandish production. With heart-thumping rock rumbling through the auditorium, it’s difficult to not be in awe of this gargantuan show, but it needs more than just brilliant musicians, songs, and vocalists to make it great.

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★

Seat: C6 | Price of Ticket: £49.50

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