Thursday 22 June 2017

Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical @ London Coliseum

The corpse of the long-flogged We Will Rock You has not long passed in the West End, but now there's a new contender for cheesy rock musical to take its place in the shape of Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell with its London premiere at the Coliseum theatre.

The similarities are palpable. It's a jukebox musical, this time based on the songs from Meatloaf's 1977 album. It features a dystopian setting, on-stage motorbikes, and a cast of characters dressed in bohemian leather outfits. Above all, it's loud and raucous but with very little to say.

The story is a clich├ęd amalgam of Romeo and Juliet and Twilight: two star-crossed lovers in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. She (Raven) is the daughter of the "tyrannical" Falco who rules the city and protects his daughter like a caged bird; he (Strat, yes like the guitar) is a mutant who never ages, rules a gang of underground outcasts and spends most of the show pretentiously spouting mad poetry in an attempt to get into her pants. Shockingly, it works.

Most of the backstory, however, is laid out in a faux newspaper handed out prior to the show. It's never a good sign when a show's plot has to be explained outside of the show itself - appropriately, most of the audience simply folded it and used it to fan themselves in the heat.

The flimsy plot is told through disjointed scenes, often taking huge tangents for the purpose of another song and not to serve the plot itself. The relationship between the overbearing Falco and his wife Sloane is a more interesting coupling than Raven and Strat, but their sexual chemistry is used simply for cheap laughs in a a production that swings wildly between melodrama and camp. The peripheral characters are instantly forgettable, while the ensemble are used to simply fill space with musical theatre choreography.

Like Falco and Sloane reliving their youth, the show is designed to appeal to nostalgia. Sadly, though, the songs simply aren't good enough. The show begins with a bang and doesn't let up: it's an endless string of power ballads and over-emoting with hardly a memorable melody between them. If anything, the whole plot seems geared towards the final number - that big duet everyone knows. I'm sure the audience of eager fans singing along would disagree with me, however.

There is some impressive staging here at least. Jon Bausor's set design makes grand use of perspective and allows for some exciting set-pieces - particularly the exploding motorbike - and Patrick Woodroffe's extensive lighting adds plenty of drama to the melodrama. The use of live video intrigues, but is mostly used to highlight the perpetually-watched Raven which comes off as voyeuristically creepy.

There's impressive singing too amongst all the wailing, but it's the female cast who stand out which emphasises the show's welcome agenda of female empowerment. As Zahara, Danielle Steers is brilliant but underused, her character a disappointing sassy black stereotype, while Christina Bennington brings some much needed delicacy as the rebellious Raven. Sharon Sexton steals the show as the laconic Sloane: a ball of sexual tension who's never far from a Martini glass, her drawling spoken voice belying a belting vocal. She's clearly having a lot of fun in this tongue-in-cheek role, something the rest of the cast should aspire to.

Audience members of a certain age will surely enjoy Bat Out Of Hell, but it's far from a classic. For all its over-the-top bombast it cannot be recommended - I would do anything for love, but I won't do that.


Watch: Bat Out Of Hell runs at the London Coliseum theatre until 22nd August.