tue 23/07/2024

Bat Out of Hell, Dominion Theatre review - the Meat Loaf musical returns, batty as ever | reviews, news & interviews

Bat Out of Hell, Dominion Theatre review - the Meat Loaf musical returns, batty as ever

Bat Out of Hell, Dominion Theatre review - the Meat Loaf musical returns, batty as ever

The booming behemoth is right at home in We Will Rock You’s old digs

Rock and roll dreams come through: Andrew Polec commands the stage as rebel StratSpecular

Back by feverishly popular demand, Jim Steinman’s mega-musical is no longer in danger of alarming unsuspecting opera-goers.

A year on from its Coliseum debut, this indisputably bonkers show moves to the West End venue it was surely always destined for – that lingeringly inhabited by its rock operatic forebear. The Queen is dead; long live the Loaf.

Unlike most jukebox musicals, this one originated as a theatrical concept back in the Seventies, then became an unlikely hit album instead. Unfortunately, that hasn’t blessed it with, say, a decent script, coherent plotting or satisfying characterisation. Instead, it’s something of a Frankenstein’s Monster: shreds of post-apocalyptic Romeo and Juliet, Peter Pan, The Warriors, We Will Rock You, plus generic teen angst and Stick It To The Man sentiments. 

In brief, we’re in a futuristic Manhattan, where an evil dictator’s plans are disrupted by The Lost – a roving band who can’t age past 18, and who inhabit (no, really) The Deep End. Naturally, the bad guy’s cosseted daughter, Raven, falls for the leader of the outlaws, Strat, and star-crossed drama ensues. Subplots include a surprisingly empathetic portrait of the baddie’s troubled marriage, and – less developed – another challenged courtship and the male stand-in for jealous Tinkerbell. (Pictured below: Christina Bennington and Andrew Polec)Bat Out of Hell, Dominion TheatreBat does have a sure handle on its identity and tone – the latter either screamingly self-serious soap opera or winking hijinks. Dialogue is woeful, and kept to a minimum between ear-splitting songs. Try to discern any sort of dramatic logic and you’re knocked flat by the wall of sound in Jay Scheib’s “more is more” production. Jon Bausor’s effective set contrasts rocky caves with the plush interiors of the evil rich (chandelier – boo!), and handheld cameras and projections add another dimension. But never mind the nuance that might provide – there’s also flames! Explosions! Flashing lights! Blood! Crashed vehicles! Literal flying bats!

It mirrors the approach taken by the score: every song starts at fever pitch and then strains for another gear. Some numbers are irresistible spectacles, or carried off by the cast’s sheer emotional commitment, but they all tend to repeat ideas rather than develop them; at great length, some just feel interminable, as well as interchangeable. The trimming of a couple would help bring down a near-three-hour run time.

As Strat, Andrew Polec is the vital centre. Ghostly pale, wiry, wild-haired and wild-eyed, and prone to involuntary shivering amid romantic outbursts, he’s somewhere between an electrified vampire with a cold and an adolescent demonically possessed by a needy poet. Yet his full-body commitment is astonishing, as are his massive, Meat Loaf-equalling vocals, which tear at the walls.Bat Out of Hell, Dominion TheatreChristina Bennington just about overcomes an irritating ball of virgin-sexy teen-girl clichés. Though her Raven is still prone to pouting, skirt-pleating and knicker-flashing, she’s a strong partner to Polec both vocally and in performance dedication. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton also impress as her parents – trying to recapture their youthful ardour in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, and then make sense of the people they’ve become.

But Danielle Steers (pictured above with Wayne Robinson) – as an outlaw who somehow also works as a nursemaid for the baddies; let’s leave it – is in danger of walking off with the show, thanks to her mighty Cher-esque voice and powerful, sultry moves. She adds much-needed grounding to Emma Portner’s peppy choreography, which makes the enthusiastic ensemble look rather like a travelling jazzercise class.

Bausor and Meentje Nielsen’s costumes are, naturally, leather-dominated goth fetish – with far more on show for the girls, but at least Fowler gamely flashes some skin. Gender politics is another no-go area, along with nagging issues like the logistics of a romance with someone who can never age. No matter. Arrested development is the curse of The Lost, and both the blessing and curse of the show. You either go over the top with it, surrendering to its sincere expression of primal, hormone-fuelled emotion, or you gradually surrender to a migraine.


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