Book, Music and Lyrics: Jim Steinman
Director: Jay Scheib
The musical Bat Out of Hell has had a long gestation, starting life as The Dream Engine, a college project written by Jim Steinman, it evolved into a hugely successful collection of concept albums before opening as Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical in Manchester in 2017. This tour, with a stripped-down ensemble, has been delayed because of Covid-19 but is now in full (and ear-battering) swing.
A chemical war and earthquake trapped a bunch of teenagers in tunnels with poisonous gas. They survived but mutated and they are doomed to remain 18 forever. Twenty-five years later, they are living a feral life as The Lost in the subway tunnels of the ravaged city of Obsidian, which is ruled over by the tyrannical Falco. Falco lives in a now largely loveless marriage to Sloane with their daughter, Raven, who is about to turn 18. During a riot, Raven sees Strat, charismatic leader of The Lost, and each becomes obsessed with the other. In a story that is part Peter Pan, part Romeo and Juliet, can they overcome the barriers between them and find a future, or are they destined to be kept apart by Falco and circumstance? And is there any future for Falco and Sloane?
As we wait for the show to start, there’s an almost subliminal industrial rumble in the air. The show starts with a crash revealing a monochromatic industrial setting designed by Jon Bausor. Large screens project live video feeds of the action, from often dizzying angles. High to one side is Raven’s bedroom in Falco Towers. It includes inward-facing mirrors, trapping her in a world of Falco’s design. But Raven’s windows can open so that she can glimpse the outside world; she can also escape and members of The Lost can, at times, enter. It’s a clever design that reinforces the whole concept. Before this particular performance, large numbers of motorbikes assembled outside the theatre with a cacophony of sound; we also see some motorbikes on stage occasionally, but they feel rather underpowered and almost apologetic.
As Strat, Glenn Adamson brings a feeling of manic danger. A tightly-coiled spring, one feels as if he could explode at any time. Part Messianic-figure, part pretentious street-poet, Adamson’s Strat moves around the stage like a big cat. In his scenes with Raven (Martha Kirby) there is intense sexual chemistry, for example, in the song, Making Love Out of Nothing At All. Kirby displays Raven’s teenage angst-driven need to rebel against authority well; one’s eyes are inevitably drawn to the pair whenever they are on stage. As Falco, Rob Fowler stalks around the stage, a feeling of barely restrained anger there much of the time. There’s clearly chemistry between Falco and Sloane (Sharon Sexton) that has been overlaid with disappointment and resentment. Both Sexton and Fowler demonstrate the suppressed sexual desire their characters feel, especially during, for example, the song Paradise by the Dashboard Light when they relive their teen years. While Falco could be thought of as a bit two-dimensional, the same isn’t true of members of The Lost: Killian Thomas Lefevre’s jealous Tink shows some real character growth, and the on-off romance between Jagwire (James Chisholm) and Zahara (Joelle Moses) is conveyed well.
Of course, many will come to Bat Out of Hell for the music and spectacle and they won’t be disappointed. It’s often loud and raucous, especially in Act I. After the interval, the whole has a more melancholic and reflective feel as characters gradually come to terms with their realities. The music is reinforced by muscular choreography adapted by Xena Gusthart with occasional flashes of balletic exuberance.
Bat Out of Hell’s pedigree immediately raises it above the juke-box musical genre. There’s nothing new in its storylines but it is delivered with enthusiasm, energy and plenty of crash and clatter. The characters have room to develop. We can forgive some of the more pretentious dialogue as we revel in the (massively over OTT) spectacle.
Runs until 15 January 2022 and touring