Benet Catty Productions

Bat Out of Hell (WE 2018)

Jul 1, 2018

Dominion Theatre

Bat out of Hell is completely bonkers.

At one point a car is pushed into the orchestra pit. At another, someone falls into a pond, remains submerged for ten seconds, then leaps back out and sings. The first act climaxes with a guy crashing a bike and the tyres flying in slow motion up in into the air while he sings with a microphone cable wrapped around his neck and blood draining down his torso. It’s that kind of show.

This is not a show you could confuse with Hamilton. Coherence is not what it’s there for. If most good musicals are as satisfying as a good meal, Bat out of Hell is more of a food fight: adrenaline-fueled, heart racing and more fun than the food would have been to eat.

Bat out of Hell is one of the biggest selling albums in history, having sold 50 million copies since its release in 1977. It was conceived by its author Jim Steinman as a stage musical and, as such, he and the singer Meatloaf were warned it would never work. This show, following seasons at the London Coliseum, Manchester and Canada before this new open-ended run began in May, is the fulfilment of a forty-year dream.

Most people will know “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” as well as the title song. But there are others you’ll recognize as they blast into your face across the show’s 2 hours 40 minutes. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, “For Crying Out Loud”, and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” all deliver, as does a brilliant new power ballad “What Part of my Body Hurts the Most”. The first act is bigger on the excess and you’re doing well if you can decipher one word in four once the singing begins. The second act is a good deal calmer and more coherent, with anthems and ballads dominating.

I truly wish I could give you a sense of what the story is. The programme tells me it’s like Peter Pan with a bunch of people being stuck as teenagers forever. Some of them are in a cage at one point. One of their number, Strat, has a Romeo and Juliet thing going on with Raven, whose parents (I think, although mum seems much younger than dad) are villains of the dystopian futuristic world in which it all happens. The parents seem to be having problems, which they attempt to resolve by pursuing their conjugal rights atop a car. Another character meets an untimely but inevitably bombastic end after singing a sweet song in part-falsetto. Beyond that, I’m afraid you’re on your own.

What is completely clear, though, is that the performances are dazzling. Andrew Polec as Strat is awe-inspiring and plays it as a rock star who happens to find himself in a stage show. He is well matched by Christina Bennington as Raven, whose earlier simpering character evolves into high decibel power. Alex Thomas-Smith as the Judas character makes something of his small but powerful role, and Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as the parents rock the house as much as anyone else. But there’s top voices right across the board, including Patrick Sullivan who gets a brief moment early in the second act.

Apart from the singing, the real wow of the evening is the look of it. Designer John Bausor lets rip with a dystopian set which pushes the stage out into the audience and over our heads, with a scale which disguises some of its economy and adaptability. Top lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe (who lit the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics) throws a million lights at it but resists the temptation of so many similar shows to make it look like The X Factor. And Gareth Owen, the most sought-after sound designer in the world, gives the show not just the huge volume it demands but a near-constant soundscape which gives the show a more immersive quality than most musicals. Emma Portner, the youngest woman ever to choreograph a major musical, really makes her dancers work hard and in quite a mix of styles.

If you’re a fan of loud rock and roll this is the show for you. If you fancy the feel of a gig with the look of a stage show then this is the show for you. If you feel that plot and character are crucial to a musical then you’ll probably be happier at any other show than this.

One warning, though. If you have a weak heart then stay away from this address. The first drum beat will kill you. But what a way to go.

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