Exploding motorbikes! Animatronic bats! Wobbly handheld cameras! I heard Bat Out of Hell: The Musical described as We Will Rock You on acid, and as being worthy of both zero stars and five stars at the same time. These are both pretty fair comments. The London Coliseum, normally the home of English National Opera, has been transformed. The dramatic dystopian set creeps into the auditorium. As you take your seats, projections flash up on the screen in front of you explaining the plot.
Said plot is fairly ludicrous and overly complex. As you enter you are handed a newspaper which explains what’s going on with various characters: presumably so that the show itself doesn’t have to waste time on such trivialities as plot and motivation. Basically there is a rich businessman with a daughter, Raven, who is about to turn eighteen. Raven is fascinated by ‘the Lost’, a group of outsiders who for some unknown reason reached their eighteenth birthdays and stopped ageing, and with one particular gang member, their leader Strat. Predictable conflicts ensue. Much of the plot detail is frankly irrelevant, and characterisation is poor, with characters changing their minds from scene to scene. It’s easy to see that the musical is designed to appeal to older people who remember the Bat Out of Hell album when it was first released: Raven and Strat take them back to their younger days, while Raven’s parents, played by Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton represent them as they are now, getting older, worrying about their child, and thinking with nostalgia of days gone by. Actually I found the parents the most interesting couple in the show: Raven came across as a spoiled brat and Strat was pretty creepy, sneaking into Raven’s bedroom and spying on her in the manner of Edward Cullen. Thinking about it, the whole idea of ‘the Lost’ remaining eighteen forever is pretty vampiric, and the dialogue is fairly Twilight, too. I don’t mean that as a compliment.
Despite all of these problems, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the energy of the show. Jim Steinman’s songs – many of them Meatloaf classics – are perfectly suited to a musical setting. The hugely talented cast, including Christina Bennington as Raven and Danielle Steers as Zahara, do them full justice. The standout for me was Andrew Polec as Strat, whose voice was simply incredible.
Big budget has obviously been thrown at the elaborate set, although I wasn’t too sure about the handheld camera productions. The whole thing is performed with a knowing wink to the audience, with cast members using handheld microphones at times as if they were at a proper music concert. One scene particularly stuck in my mind: Raven pushes a car off the stage into the orchestra pit, and soon angry orchestra members clamber out, waving their broken instruments in chagrin.
It’s overblown and ridiculous, but Bat Out of Hell is also huge fun and unmissable for anyone who likes cheesy musicals and overblown rock.