A quick look over the musicals’ lengthy Wikipedia entry confirms the extent of narrative nonsensicality, although whether this enriches or unnecessarily conflates the viewing experience is at the individual’s discretion. Admittedly, making sense of the dystopian Neverland, wherein lead character Strat leads a group of eighteen-year-olds known as The Lost in their survival, personally took until the soulful and romantic ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’. However, combined with the beautifully designed set, Meat’s music provided welcome distance from the plot, even if certain tracks (notably ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ and ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’) felt forced and offered little plot advancement.
With its rambunctious, unrestrained instrumentation and poetic lyricism on such infamous tracks as ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’ and ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’, Jim Steinman’s theatrical adaptation suits the choral vocals of an overtly enthusiastic supporting cast featuring the likes of James Chisholm (Book of Mormon, West End) and Laura Johnson (Hair, Hope Mill Theatre).
Yet it is lead Glenn Adamson who eclipses the other outstanding performers with a portrayal of Strat that fully embodies the epic melodrama and gothic wit of the eponymous album, possessed with a distinct moral certainty and emotional fragility. Titular track ‘Bat Out of Hell’ is a climatic highlight, with stunning visuals to match high energy dance and Adamson’s rasping tenor vocal, whilst the stripped ballad ‘Making Love Out of Nothing At All’ is gloriously campy, if not slightly Disneyfied. If Meat’s music is the opera, Strat is the classical protagonist, romantically Machiavellian and vivaciously Shakespearian in an unwavering commitment to those he loves.
However, I cannot neglect to mention the stellar performances of Martha Kirby and Killian Lefevre; who shone as Raven, an angsty teen desperate to break-free from the privilege and expectations of the family home; and Tink, heartbreakingly trapped in unrequited love, respectively. Although more than a little stereotypical in characterisation, their strength in performance supports Adamson and utilises all aspects of Jon Bausor’s unique staging.
Distinctively capturing both location and mood through technological innovation, Bat’s production team encapsulate exactly how contemporary set design can utilise multimedia to great effect; West End producers take note. Special mention to the newly renovated Stockton Globe for providing the arena-esque lighting and sweeping panoramic back seat views to immerse the senses.
And herein lies Bat Out of Hell’s bona fide strength. Whilst verging on a tribute act, the staging and performance is unexclusive to the Meat Loaf fans and casual theatre goers who simply want to enjoy his music. As a posthumous celebration of Meats extensive back catalogue, it delivers; but crucially also provides a fast-paced visual assault with gritty aesthetics and grittier performances to transcend the typical boundaries of the jukebox musical. Just don’t expect too much from the plot.
Rating: 2/3 (ain’t bad)
Bat Out of Hell is showing nationwide, coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal from 26th July-6th August! Tickets are available at https://www.batoutofhellmusical.com/uk-tour