Review of Bat Out of Hell at the London Coliseum
The grand old London Coliseum on St Martin's Lane -- usually the home of London's second opera company, the English National Opera -- is undergoing a management crisis and severe cuts in funding. It has meant that ENO no longer produce as much as they used to, but are now diversifying the offering there with other non-operatic partnerships that began with Grade-Linnit to co-produce popular musicals (including a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close that transferred back to Broadway this year) and rentals of the space to other producers that now yields the arrival of a brash, noisy new stage version of the 70s pop opera album Bat out of Hell.
Of course commercial musicals are nothing new to this address: for a decade from 1947 to 1957 it was the London home for a succession of UK premieres of Broadway hits, including Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, Guys and Dolls, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankess and The Bells are Ringing.
Each of those are now classics of their kind, and I couldn't help, of course, but think nostalgically of their musical wit and grit, tact and taste as I watched the production and musical excesses of Bat out of Hell. But if this show marks a massive degradation from those giddy heights of theatrical excellence, I must also openly acknowledge that there is a market for this kind of pop rock spectacle, though it may not be for me.
Occupying the territory vacated by We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages, this is a rock gig hybrid, full of spectacular sets and set pieces, flashing lights and actual fire, in which familiar pop standards from a best-selling 1977 album and its two sequels are recycled against a futuristic plot of young love trying to overcome evil forces.
Here the result is a bit like Peter Pan meets We Will Rock You, in which the "Lost Boys" -- frozen in time at 18 years old -- are led by Strat, who falls in love with Raven, daughter of the manipulative Falco, ruler of this post-apocalyptic Manhattan. She is kept away from the world in Falco Towers, which looks a bit like the Shard.
Played out on Jon Bausor's industrial junkyard of a set, which dwarfs the Coli's proscenium and hides its grand boxes behind sheeting, the show spits fire in every sense. (There are times, unfortunately, when you can't but help think of the burnt out images of Grenfell Tower).
There's a lot of generic body-popping dancing (choreographed by Emma Portner), but it is the excessive use of video (live and filmed, as the actors are stalked by a cameraperson and those images projected onto gauze screens), massive lighting rig by Patrick Woodroffe and brilliant sound by Gareth Owen that keep the energy up.
The standards, meanwhile, keep pouring out -- songs like I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), Paradise by the Dashboard Light, You Took the Words Right out of my Mouth and It's All Coming Back to me Now, and they're punchily rendered by a hard-working cast led by Andrew Polec as Strat, Christina Bennington as Raven and Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Raven's parents.