Quick summary: Loved the music, maybe not for the West End?
I’ve tried to make it spoiler free…..! There are a couple of really tiny ones.
Having been brought up to fully and completely appreciate rock music by my amazing super cool Dad (he features in the Hamilton review, go check it out), ‘Bat Out of Hell’ was a musical I knew I needed to go and see when it returned to the West End in 2018. Also, if you live in London then you will know there are an incredible amount of posters advertising it on the tube, so I got my act together and booked it.
When you walk into the Dominion Theatre, the atmosphere is immediately set. The lighting is dark, there are eerie dystopian sound effects that are kind of mechanical sounding, and images of bats on fire scrolling across the main screen. This was one of the only shows I’ve seen where before the show has even begun, the music and setting is active. As far as the structure of the theatre itself, you can see right up through all the riggings above the stage, which really gives the impression of being massive. The dystopian, industrial theme was continued in the architecture of the theatre with exposed concrete grid slabs as the ceiling where all the lighting rigs are. Disappointingly, for my show, which was in fairness a weekday evening show, the theatre was almost half empty, which perhaps made the atmosphere a little lacklustre.
I think a main point I took away from the show itself is that it is not at all like conventional musical theatre. I personally quite like the moment at the beginning of a show when the curtain comes up, and there’s a grand reveal of the ensemble (think Wicked), or when the house lights dim and a character walks onto the stage for the first time (think Hamilton). In Bat Out of Hell, however, 3 of the main characters kind of drift on stage and tinker about with the props at about 19:20, so just when everyone is still chatting and finding their places. For me, it meant that I started the show slightly confused as opposed to buzzing in my seat at the start.
Character wise, the stand-out performances for me were Rob Fowler as Falco and Sharon Sexton as Sloan. They both had mature and insightful performances that showed the depth of corruption in the world of the show, and in particular Rob Fowler’s vocals were powerful and full of rich tones (unsurprising for someone who has played Jamie in The Last Five Years)
On the day of the show I left feeling really really torn about what I thought about Andrew Polec as Strat and Christina Bennington as Raven. I found both to be quite hyperbolic in their actions and facial expressions, which at first made them quite hard to watch on stage, and meant I didn’t feel like I could really connect with their characters. As the show progressed, I started to understand more about the characters, and came to the conclusion that although it felt over the top, this might be Polec and Bennington nodding to the role of madness in the genre of rock and roll.
I loved the songs, and the vocals were undeniably strong in the show, but that was sort of it for me; I spent the majority of the show feeling really torn about whether I liked it or not. There were some really interesting and clever aspects, and some parts that left me plain confused.
The moment when I finally decided what I thought of the show was actually on the tube the other day, when I saw a woman in a Meatloaf shirt. I can totally understand the appeal of Bat Out of Hell if you’re into Meatloaf or Jim Steinman fan. However, I think I would have enjoyed it more as a staged concept album in an arena as opposed to a West End show, and if you’re not a die-hard Meatloaf or Jim Steinman fan, it’s a little harder to enjoy.