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Bat Out Of Hell – London Coliseum

June 14, 2017

(seen at the performance on 13th June 2017)

Once upon a time, around 20 years ago now, a show called “Grease,” and a show called “Cats” probably met on a street called “Broadway.” In a short time, they decided to get married. They gave each other a “special cuddle” and, well, 18 years later this is the result.

And I’m not really joking.

It’s 2100, and an accident has left a group kids underground in the big city, stuck permanently at that age. “Peter Pan” style there’s “the boy who never grew up,” Strat (Andrew Polec) and sidekick Tink (Aran Macrae) to head up this gang.

Above, in Falco Tower, Strat’s obsession Raven (Christina Bennington) is about to reach her real 18th Birthday with warring parents dictator Falco (Rob Fowler) determined to keep her out of Strat’s reach, and rockin’ wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) keeping herself firmly in both camps.

Like “Grease” this is full of that special energy only those who are 18 forever could have, plus all the angst that goes with it. Like “Cats,” this a wafer-thin plot which holds strong and true for the most part, across almost three hours, as a hugely talented ensemble play on a stonkingly clever Jon Bausor set. A guitar fret is a tower block, there’s plenty of projection work from Finn Ross that brings it all to life and also one of the funniest “fourth wall breaking” visual jokes the monkey has seen in years.

To get the faults out of the way, the second half could do with a little more plot – except that to actually cut scenes would mean losing some terrific songs and great dance numbers. That one is a bit of an insoluble. There is a fair amount of strong language too, not all of it required. On the other hand, the fairly racy material renders the show unsuitable for under 14s anyway, so, leave it in. Oh, and one quip was filthy, but hilarious, anyway.

Back to the great stuff.

There’s enough talented eye-candy to satisfy all. Mr Polec and Miss Bennington are sufficient not only to tickle the fancy, but massively gifted singers and dancers too, with strong enough acting skills to get us invested in their characters even when the plot veers a little unsteadily. Both their solo vocals are show-stoppers and they truly drive the tribal aspect in the big numbers involving equally accomplished fellow ensemble members. Aran Macrae in particular deserves a note as Tink, as does Danielle Steers as tribal wise-person Zahara in a pivotal supporting role.

Excellent work too from Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, particularly as they re-live their youth and later as they reveal very different aspects of their characters – again finding depth where none really exists in the script.

If, like me, you only really know “Bat Out of Hell” – given a terrific explosive treatment here – and “Anything For Love,” don’t worry. The rest of the songs, “Heaven Can Wait,” “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth,” “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and more (annoyingly, the programme doesn’t list them, and I’m not a big enough fan to instantly know) all land as if written for the theatre in the first place. Better still, though I used earplugs, for most they are at a volume where words are clear and the bass is exciting enough to shake the audience “just for the hell of it.”

Put simply, a show that has even me “up and dancing” at the end has to have something special. It’s “Batty As Hell,” true – insubstantial on the story, but so high-energy, with a gloriously fun cast doing amazing things with their talent that it’s pretty much irresistible for anyone seeking a hard-rocking night out. Interestingly, during the interval this middle aged conservative bloke happened to get chatting to a much facially-pierced, crop-cut late teenage lady. We were both as hyped as each other on the show, and both enjoyed our brief and excited conversation, which I think says it all. It crosses the barriers and makes everyone’s world just that bit better.

Easy 4 stars for now, and if they sorted out the second half, would have been 5.

 

Oh, and as a coda, if (as they were on my night) they are handing out audience surveys to complete, do. Return it after the show to the box office and you get a free poster – the type you see on the Underground Station escalators. Brilliant souvenir and £15 cheaper than the print they sell in the gift shop. Worth knowing, I think.

 

For seating advice, in addition to the stuff on Theatremonkey, I would go for the dress circle and upwards, for overall view. If in the stalls, around row G back, gives the best view. If further forward in the stalls, then centre block first, then “low numbers” side of the auditorium if possible in the side blocks. There are relatively cheaper seats on the side blocks of row A that are worth a look – take the one closest to the centre aisle first, the rest on the “low numbers” side after that, and then the rest on the high numbers side. Same goes for rows B and C cheaper seats behind, too, I feel.

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