Palace Theatre, Manchester, then touring
Guest reviewer: Hope Priddle
Hitting the highway until late 2022, after several staggering runs in Toronto, New York and London, Bat Out Of Hell returned to its proverbial Manchester home this weekend. A stunning realisation of Jim Steinman’s life’s work and Meat Loaf’s iconic trilogy, the rock-opera is set in the dystopian city of Obsidian, a wasteland governed by the despotic Falco in the wake of a chemical war. Falco embarks upon a campaign to rebuild his metropole, which has since been overrun by a gang of feral, mutated youths – The Lost – frozen forever at the age of 18. As their leader Strat falls for the tyrant’s daughter Raven, an epic drama unfolds.
Bat Out Of Hell has undergone numerous changes across its various iterations; this new touring production is no exception, having been understandably shortened and scaled back. The book, which was already somewhat nonsensical, has suffered because of this. Amendments to the script, which were clearly made to clarify and accelerate the storyline, are overly literal, with clunky dialogue often betraying the visceral atavism of Steinman’s poetry.
However, it’s foolish to think that anyone coming to see Bat Out Of Hell is after a refined and sophisticated narrative. It’s bursting with knowing irony and sarcasm – it has its tongue firmly situated in its cheek throughout. It’s a magical fever dream that invites you to suspend your disbelief.
Incoherency is irrelevant when you have a cast as stellar as this one – a cast who perform with such raw passion and hunger, you absolutely cannot take your eyes off them. As the black-hearted leader of The Lost and ultimate manic pixie dream boy, Glenn Adamson is mesmerising as Strat. His powerful performance of the titular song blew the roof of the Manchester Opera House. Adamson shares sizzling chemistry with Martha Kirby, our atypical teenage ingénue Raven, who perfectly captures the character’s fearless spirit and delivers flawless vocals.
Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton triumph as Raven’s parents, Falco and Sloane. While the couple are outrageously comic and camp, their failing marriage inspires genuine pathos as they reflect upon ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’.
Sultry and savvy, Joelle Moses embodies the role of Zahara; James Chisholm is charming as tough yet huge-hearted Jagwire, and Killian Thomas Lefevre plays a wholly endearing Tink, the youngest member of The Lost. Whilst supporting characters Valkyrie (Kellie Gnauck) and Ledoux (Danny Whelan) demonstrate stunning vocal prowess, the loss of an all-male rendition of ‘Objects In The Rear View Mirror’ during the second act, is felt massively. In previous productions, the number provided an emotional antidote to examples of sexually-charged masculinity and it was always refreshing to see raging machismo tempered by platonic male love.
The ensemble are electric, executing Xena Gusthart’s dynamic choreography with real attitude. They are complimented by a spectacular use of multi-media effects, including live video. Action is televised, Big-Brother style, across the auditorium, with an on-stage camera woman magnifying the drama. Given that the cast have free-reign over Jon Bausor’s multi-levelled post apocalyptic playground, this technique proves highly effective in capturing every little detail. The show is a huge assault on the senses, in the best way possible; expect a cacophony of colour, light, sound (and fire)!
If you’re after an evening like no other, exploding with hedonistic pleasure and unadulterated euphoria, head out on your Harley and get yourself a ticket…before they’re too hot to handle.
Bat Out of Hell is currently touring the UK and Ireland
photo credit: Chris Davis Studio