Bat Out Of Hell – New Theatre, Oxford

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book,Music andLyrics: Jim Steinman

Director: Jay Scheib

Bat out of Hell literally explodes into action with a fiery opening monologue from the protagonist Raven, played by Kellie Gnauck. She sets the pace and tone for the whole show with her dynamic portrayal of this character. The show is, at its heart, a love story between Raven and Strat (Glenn Adamson) who are forced apart through circumstance, Raven being the overprotected child of Falco and Sloane, and Strat, the leader of ‘The Lost’. The narrative is a mash-up of Peter Pan and Romeo and Juliet set to music that is certain to enthrall.

The production is slick and modern in its presentation of the dystopian society that it has created. On stage, there is a stark contrast between the imposing tower-like structure of Falco’s home and the raw and exposed nature of the rocks and tunnels inhabited by ‘the lost’. This, coupled with the outrageous costume design, really punches the contrast between sinister overlord Falco’s family who are all smartly dressed and ‘The Lost’ with their ripped leathers and marching boots.

The live streaming of Raven’s every move onto the screen from inside her Fret shaped, prison-esque bedroom is a clever touch, which cements the sinister nature of her father’s character. The clever use of technology within the show makes it feel like an amalgamation of theatre and cinema which is uniquely satisfying for an audience.

Gnauck and Adamson portray the protagonists with just the right level of teenage angst, peppered with moments of tenderness as well as a fair helping of sexual tension. Gnauk’s delivery is pitched beautifully and her physicality within the role is lovely to watch.

Adamson provides a masterclass in leading a musical theatre production. From his aggressive and physically dominant entrance in the opening number to his deafening delivery of Bat out of Hell at the end of Act I, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. The delivery of the titular song is striking, with explosions, motorbikes, blood and a mangled bike. Adamson takes all this in his stride and delivers what might just be the most satisfying pre-interval climax scene in musical theatre.

In a true ensemble show, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as the tyrannical Falco and his long-suffering wife have electric chemistry and deliver a hilarious Paradise by the Dashboard Light full of clever physicality and innuendo and in which they reminisce about their first sexual encounters with one another. Set to hilarious choreography from their ‘servants’, this number is performed on a full-sized convertible and is topped with brilliantly timed slapstick comedy, leaving both Falco and Sloane in a state of undress and allowing for a rather large helping of comic relief. The scene ends with Raven (Gnauck) awkwardly walking in on her parents in their underwear and throwing the engine of the car into the orchestra pit in disgust. The sight of ‘orchestra members’ climbing onto the stage in protest with their broken instruments breaks the tension of the scene to the great amusement of the audience.

Sexton is phenomenal in her role as Sloane. She is tragic, beautiful and comedic in equal parts. Sloane as a character is multi-faceted and interacts within the Falco family, but also encourages her daughter to explore for herself and meet ‘The Lost’ who have been frozen in time after the ‘chemical wars’ and will be perpetually 18. Indeed, it is Sloane who hands Raven her first biker jacket and asks of her “if you never go over the top, how will you ever know?”. And it is she who hires Zaraha (Joelle Moses) to work in servitude for the Falco family, thus providing Raven with her link to Strat and ‘The Lost’. She nails her portrayal of Sloane as the depressed trophy wife but also displays the complexities of being stuck in a marriage where they are in love and hate in equal measure. During What Part of My Body Hurts the Most we see the difficulties in her relationship with Falco played out in stark contrast to the earlier lust fuelled number.

Rob Fowler’s Falco, as the sinister overlord of this dystopian world, is pitched perfectly. His family has not been frozen during the chemical wars and he considers ‘The Lost’ to be ‘mutants’. Whilst his intentions toward his daughter are primarily borne from the need to protect her, his character is flawed by his incessant need to control the women in his life. Fowler’s performance is intimidating and aggressive when it needs to be, but he is an actor with a strong ability to switch the tone of a scene from hard-hitting drama to side-splitting comedy within an instant.

Joelle Moses (Zahara) and James Chisholm (Jagwire) are captivating in their rendition of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. Each time these two are on stage, their chemistry cuts through and draws the eye. Moses is a truly dynamic performer, her character integrates across both groups of people as both servant and soldier, playing the part with just the right level of sensitivity and fearlessness.

Rebecca Lafferty is an explosive ball of energy in her portrayal of Valkyrie (Strat’s trusted lieutenant), often pulling focus in the high-energy dance numbers. She is entirely believable as the aggressive and commanding foot soldier and bounces with impressive energy from group to group onstage. In particular, she has an excellent connection with Sexton’s Sloane, inviting her to join Strat’s rallying call in the second act and providing a comedic climax to the scene by unexpectedly kissing Sloane before running off to join the crowd, which Sloane dismisses with a Cher-style hair swish. She and Chisholm’s Jagwire deliver a heart-breaking rendition of Objects in the Rear-View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are as they mourn and console the lost after the climactic crash in Act I.

Xena Gusthart’s choreography is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a fast-paced, eruptive chronicle of movement that genuinely encapsulates the crescendo of sound that inevitably comes with a Meatloaf track. The music is, of course, the backbone of this show with Jim Steinman’s work lending itself perfectly to the theatre. The way in which the songs are staged is spectacular. Big songs are performed by even bigger voices and come complete with glitter, fireballs and clever lighting effects: what’s not to love?

This show is an adrenaline-fuelled party which ends with a tribute to Jim Steinman in which the audience is encouraged to dance, sing, and film.

Runs until 16 October 2021 and touring

The Reviews Hub Score

Exhilarating, intoxicating , electrifying

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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