Bat Out of Hell: Dominion Theatre, London
Reviewed 26th April 2018
Featuring songs from one of the most iconic and successful albums of all time, Bat Out of Hell, comes this critically acclaimed new musical. The book, music and lyrics are written by Jim Steinman and this visually impressive show is directed by Jay Scheib.
The set and staging of this modern show is a true spectacle. The multi-levelled set designed by Jon Bausor is detailed and unique. From the extremely raked stage and overhang into the audience to the interesting scenic touches this production clearly has spared nothing to create a visually stunning stage. The automations used throughout the show are impressive, particularly the effective use of the motorbikes and cars, whilst the transitions between scenes themselves are also smooth and cleverly designed. The show uses live videos, which are broadcast onto the many TV screens onstage as well as projected onto multiple backdrops, and candid camera moments throughout the show. At first this seems a novel concept and is interesting but after a while it is confusing as to its purpose and its addition to the show. In fact, there were several moments where set pieces (the submerged pool of water for example) and props which felt a bit gimmicky and not actually relevant to or referred to in the story.
From a technical perspective this production is top-notch. The lighting, designed by Patrick Woodroffe, is fantastic and completely adds to its rock concert style. The costumes by Jon Bausor and Meentje Nielsen, which felt slightly similar to those seen in We Will Rock You, are perfect for the show.
On the night of this review there were some problems with the sound quality and microphones for some of the beginning numbers which meant that the audience couldn’t hear the lyrics and the harmonies provided by the ensemble. However, technical difficulties aside, the music is a real highlight of the show. The songs are all performed with conviction from all the extremely talented cast and in true rock style. The vocals from all members of the cast are outstanding with understudy Simon Gordon starting the show as lead character Strat. Danielle Steers impresses with her rich, deep tones and the sheer volume of her voice which compliments her onstage partner Wayne Robinson. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton’s voices also compliment each other particularly well, especially in their song ‘Who Needs The Young?’. Christina Bennington’s vocals provide a nice contrast to the rock style vocals of the ensemble and are delicate-yet-strong enough to tackle even the most anticipated of songs such as ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’.
A particular highlight comes from the simplistic, emotional song ‘Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’. This song allows the cast to truly show emotion and is sung beautifully. Alex Thomas-Smith’s vocals during his solo ‘Not Allowed To Love’ must also be commended as he performs this fantastically, with delicate vocals and is able to show a real sense of character.
The choreography, by Emma Portner, is fresh, fun and innovative. Every cast member performs the complicated dance moves with conviction and passion and the timing is brilliant. The choreography, which is a fusion of hip-hop and modern dance with a few break-dancing skills thrown in for good measure, works effortlessly with the show and adds to the staging of the songs.
This show certainly has the wow appeal. Visually it is stunning, although possibly slightly over the top for some, and musically it certainly impresses. However it has one major flaw. The plot…. or the lack of one. The plot is confusing and not explained clearly throughout the show. There are references to dreams and not aging, possibly some link to the Lost Boys by J.M.Barrie, but these are not elaborated upon. Luckily, during Act II things do improve with regards to the plot and the characters are developed somewhat. As a result of this it is hard to feel any true emotions or empathy for the characters. It was a shame to hear so many audience members coming away from the show saying they enjoyed it and praising the music, but not actually being sure what it was about.
At points this musical felt like it was trying too hard. Spending too much time and effort on the set and visual side of things and not enough on the plot, character development and acting. Other hit productions have shown that elaborate sets are not always necessary. A brilliant score and book delivered with conviction and honesty by the cast can do just as well on stage as a production which is visually impressive.
That said, this show is a marvel. The atmosphere in the auditorium is fantastic and the music really wows. It is unlike anything else currently on in the West End. It’s certainly worth a visit. Bat Out of Hell pulls out all the stops and doesn’t hold back. Grab yourself a ticket and get ready to rock!
Photo Credit: Specular (London 2017 Cast)