Bat out of Hell UK Tour - Theatre Royal Plymouth Review
Jukebox musicals, love them or hate them, have been around for quite some time and won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Mamma Mia, The Band, Sunshine on Leith, The Bodyguard and &Juliet are just some examples of shows based around the catalogues of popular artists from ABBA to The Proclaimers and whilst you may think that Jukebox musicals cater for the party audience, the light-hearted night out that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell, inspired by Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell trilogy of album’s, gives Jukebox a twist with a dark and thrilling loose retelling of Peter Pan.
With the songs featured including ‘Bat out of Hell’, ‘Dead Ringer for Love’, ‘Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire’, ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), and ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth’, the list of musical numbers is lengthy and impressive, with the songs slotting in nicely into the love story and battle between groups from different worlds after a chemical catastrophe.
We are introduced to Raven (Martha Kirby), daughter of Falco (Rob Fowler) the leader of Obsidian. Soon to turn 18, Raven has had enough of being kept inside all her life and wants to experience life outside with The Lost, a group who survived poisoning during a chemical event but were left permanently 18 years old. Strat (Glenn Adamson) is the leader of The Lost (and this is where the whole Peter Pan thing comes in), with the group looking up to him, especially Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) who seems to be trapped in a younger body then the rest of them. There is a case of star-crossed lovers as Strat falls for Raven, much to the disgust of Falco, leading to battles within The Lost and Raven’s family as her mother Sloane (Franziska Schuster) and father face up to their own pasts and Strat tries to lead the group through the troubling times.
The story line can become a little bit confusing at times, with what could be quite a simple idea of lovers from different backgrounds coming together against parent’s wishes buried under the dark clouds of some chemical event which could use a little bit more explanation and the fact that one will age and the other won’t. Brief snippets of moments from Peter Pan flicker in and out of the plot line, and I feel that this could have perhaps been explored a little bit more.
Nevertheless, the cast do incredibly well with what they are given, creating believable characters that are easy to feel for and root for. Strat played by Glenn Adamson, is some twisted illustration of the famous ‘Boy who wouldn’t grow up’, appearing fearless yet flawed. He paints himself as a great leader, guiding his group of Lost through hidden tunnels and hideaways under the city, trying to create some sort of life for them but under that strength, he has this softer heart that yearns for the love of Raven and he’s willing to do anything to earn that love. Adamson is rarely off stage in what is a very physically demanding role, with his powerful vocals impressing throughout.
Martha Kirby’s Raven may, at first, come across as spoilt but she is tougher than she appears, willing to sacrifice her own freedom for Strat’s safety whilst Joelle Moses’ Zahara blurs the lines between the Lost and the powerful, using her position to help Raven as she tries to come to terms with her own feelings towards both Strat and Jagwire, played by James Chisholm. Killian Thomas Lefevre plays Tink, desperate to win the approval and affection of Strat and willing to do anything to earn it.
Rob Fowler’s Falco is the villain of the piece, seeking constant control over Raven and unable to hide his hatred of The Lost with Franziska Schuster’s Sloane providing both comedy and a drive to do what is right for her daughter. The ensemble plays various members of The Lost, and Falco workers, impressing with many a high energy dance numbers whilst giving the show an emotional heart.
When it comes to the music, I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t actually know that many Meatloaf songs, and I’ve never been the biggest fan of the songs as a whole. They are wordy, somewhat complicated, and sometimes just a little bit odd in places, and that’s before you talk about the length of them. Many Meatloaf songs are epic in proportion, with running time easily pushing 6,7,8 minutes in places. They are full on, and for someone who doesn’t know the songs very well, I found myself at times questioning whether it was just one song or a medley, especially with some of the songs sounding quite similar at first. Despite the length and sometimes confusing lyrics, the songs fit well into the story.
The staging is visually impressive, in not a little over the top. When combined with the music and Xena Gusthart’s energetic choreography, the show is a bit of an assault on the senses. The stage is split into two main parts. Falco towers and the underground world of The Lost, with a large tunnel with a walkway over the top. The backdrop is dominated by a large video screen, and this is where it gets a little bit confusing. Throughout the show we see a camera man, following action around with this action then projected onto the screen. Whilst this is good for those sitting further away from the stage, giving a close up to many pivotal moments, but I found it a little bit distracting, finding myself torn between watching the action actually taking place or watching the screen. That and I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the screen, was it supposed to be like watching a movie or some strange documentary?
Overall, Bat out of Hell is an entertaining night out and one that will leave you with a loop of Meatloaf hits whirling around your head. The plotline is odd, but I guess that merges perfectly with the oddness of the songs. The encore had the entire auditorium on it’s the feet and the fleet of Harley Davidson bikes outside the theatre was a crowd pleaser. It’s a jukebox musical that may just appeal to those who normally don’t go for that kind of thing, full of fire, fighting and high energy dance numbers intertwined with betrayal and romance.
Bat out of Hell runs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth until 23 July https://theatreroyal.com/whats-on/bat-out-of-hell-the-musical/