Writers: Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming
Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe
Director: Luke Fredericks
Reviewer: Niall Harman
Over the last eighteen months, Southwark Playhouse has produced a trio of acclaimed musicals in the form ofTitanic,In the HeightsandDogfight. Unfortunately, with their revival ofBat Boy: the Musical, an off-Broadway hit but notorious West End flop in 2004, this winning streak has come to an abrupt end.
One cannot deny that the story is an interesting, admittedly unconventional subject for a musical. Based on a series of fabricated tabloid news articles, it concerns the discovery of a creature, half-human and half-bat, found deep in a cave in rural West Virginia. The creature cases revulsion among the townsfolk, but is taken in and nurtured by the maternal Meredith, wife to the town’s only vet, despite the jealousy and anger this causes her husband. The musical touches on themes of acceptance and hypocrisy, but these are negated by its camp tone.
Laurence O’Keefe’s music is average, and not particularly memorable. The exemption being the bizarre opening number, containing the striking chorus “Hold me, Bat Boy, Touch me, Bat Boy, Won’t you help me through the night?”, and a rap number in the first act that is notable purely due to how cringe-inducing it is. O’Keefe’s lyrics can be quite funny and occasionally touching, but are often drowned out by a band playing far louder than the cast can sing, even when they are using microphones.
However, what really lets down this production is not the material, but the fact that it feels like an amateur production, something that should not be expected from a respected producing house such as Southwark Playhouse. While this may be a deliberate decision by director Luke Fredericks to further the musical’s reputation as a camp, silly, cult classic, it is the wrong one. The shows production values are almost non-existent, with cheap and flimsy scenery, creaky set changes and possibly the worst set of wigs and costumes I’ve seen in any show. The production relies heavily on projections to set the scene, but they look cheap and as if they were drawn up by someone learning how to use Paint and Photoshop. It is a shame to see a piece be so let down by a disappointing production that looks so unprofessional.
The production also seems muddled in its setting. One character dressed like she was from the 1950s, while the main set seemed firmly at home in the 70s or 80s, complete with an ancient television and plugged in phone, while other characters used smartphones and a Dyson hoover. This was in spite of the fact that the programme listed the setting as “the present”. While this would fade into insignificance in a better production or show, it was distracting during this one.
In spite of the show’s major flaws, it does boast several good vocal performances, most notably from Lauren Ward as Meredith, the adoptive mother of Bat Boy, loving and encouraging to him while showing a cold distain for her husband of many years. RobCompton gives an impressively physical performance as the Bat Boy, with equally good vocal performances from Matthew White as Dr Parker and Georgina Hagen as Shelley, the Parkers’ daughter. Yet these performances, while good, do not make up for the show’s many problems, but do redeem it somewhat.
In spite of some good performances and an interesting, albeit outlandish plot,Bat Boylacks memorable music and high production values, making for an extremely underwhelming evening of theatre.
Runs until 31 January| Photo Garry Lake