Review: Bat out of Hell @ Lyceum Theatre
Based on the music of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, Bat out of Hell revved its way into the Sheffield Lyceum this week. Set in a not too distant, dystopian future, it is the story of a forbidden romance between Strat, a mutant street kid who will forever remain eighteen, and Raven, the daughter of Falco, the town’s tyrannical leader. But their love puts the rest of “The Lost” in danger as Falco grows more determined to keep the pair apart.
Bat out of Hell is a genuinely mixed bag. It’s a fairly standard jukebox musical, wrapping a virtually non-existent story around a collection of hits. It’s a show which wears its influences clearly on its sleeve, sharing many commonalities with the JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, more than a passing nod to Romeo & Juliet and an aesthetic not too dissimilar to Joel Schumacher’s seminal vampire film, The Lost Boys.
The real draw to this production is the music, utilising a classic album as its backbone and featuring songs which in themselves are ideally suited to a stage musical, brimming with over the top theatrics and drama. As someone who grew up listening to the album, there was a genuine pleasure to be found in hearing the opening chords of the classics played by the live band, even if some of the vocal performances didn’t reach the heights they could have.
There were a few creative choices that didn’t quite fit in – the stage was cramped with an overly intrusive set; limiting the functional area that the performers had to utilise, which in turn rendered the choreography perfunctory, rather than the grandiose set pieces they could have been. Added to that was an odd hybrid of live theatre being filmed and projected simultaneously on large screens, meaning that the camera operator often stood between the actors and the audience, and leaving the cast to play to the camera whilst the audience didn’t know whether to watch the actors or the time delayed video feed.
But there were also elements of the show that really worked. The show was chaotic, anarchic and disordered, but that only reflected the story, the characters and the ethos of rock and roll. Throw into that a production which can only be described a full on assault on the senses, blasting you with squealing guitars, screeching vocals, flames, explosions, ticker tape, streamers, video projections, smoke machines, mirror balls, motorbikes ….and noise …. lots of noise. Add to that a superb lighting design and you have a visual theatrical experience which certainly had more than its fair share of thrills and surprises.
Could the story have been better? Absolutely. Could the direction, staging and choreography have made more of the source material? Absolutely. Is it life changing theatre? Absolutely not. But what Bat Out Of Hell brings is a truckload of attitude, a sensory battering and, judging by the number of tapping feet and nodding heads in the theatre, some timeless music which still resonates with audiences now as much as it did on first release.
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