REVIEW: ‘Bat out of Hell’, Dominion Theatre

Bat out of Hell‘, Dominion Theatre

  Obsidian, 2030.

  The Lost, a group of genetically mutated teenagers, frozen in time at the age of 18, haunt the Deep End, free from the oppression of Obsidian’s tyrannical ruler, Falco. When Strat, leader of the Lost, however, falls in love with Raven, daughter of Falco, their two worlds collide with a blistering intensity, as these two young lovers strive to overcome all odds, willing to do just about anything for love.

  After a successful run in Manchester in 2017, ‘Bat out of Hell The Musical’ hit the West End like a certain winged mammal from a certain fiery abyss. Now, after a run in Toronto, the show is back in the West End, this time at the Dominion Theatre and, just as popular, if not more so, than ever before, it shows no sign of stopping. In fact, it just won’t quit.

  Written by Jim Steinman and directed by Jay Scheib, the show is a loose retelling of Peter Pan, a story Steinman has often expressed a fascination for, and contains some of the best-known songs from Meat Loaf’s trilogy of albums from which the show’s title is taken which, quite deservedly, remain among the best in history, resulting in a show that is hotter than hell!

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The cast of Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Steinman once stated that “Peter Pan is the ultimate rock and roll myth – lost boys who don’t grow up”. It’s no secret that Steinman has an affinity for J.M Barrie’s classic, which declares that “to live will be an awfully big adventure”, and this musical is definitely “ready for adventures”. ‘Bat out of Hell’ certainly captures the youthful exuberance present within this story, and the idea of not growing up is a central theme, alongside obvious parallels to the Lost Boys (The Lost), and to Tinkerbell (Tink). With youth comes a wonderful freedom, and young people unashamedly do what they want to do, and be who they want to be. Through The Lost, therefore, the audience allow themselves to “imagine every inch of [their] dreams”, as we are encouraged to embrace our own youth and allow it to shape our futures and, for those of us who remain 18 at heart, the musical, heartwarming and life-affirming, offers a wonderful escape, inviting us to hop aboard The Neverland Express.

  The cast of hell-raisers are undoubtedly one of the hottest theatre has to offer right now. Equally talented across the board, in a show fuelled by their energy, this ensemble certainly does justice to the iconic hits of Meat Loaf.

Andrew Polec (Strat) and the cast of Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Andrew Polec, exceptional as Strat is, vocally, a dead ringer for a young Meat Loaf, his voice like a “horny angel”. His rendition of the title song ‘Bat out of Hell’ is unforgettable, and is no doubt a contender for one of the best musical theatre moments in history. Free-spirited and mischievous, Strat undergoes a kind of awakening when he comes face-to-face with Christina Bennington’s Raven, and is instantly captivated by her, struck by a poetic ‘love at first sight’. His character intriguing and exciting, Polec oozes confident charm and, though quite possibly damned, Raven is happy, as are the audience, to follow Strat into the darkness, choosing damnation alongside him rather than heaven. Heaven can wait.

  Bennington’s Raven, the epitome of youthful innocence and girlish charm, longs for the freedom enjoyed by Strat and The Lost, herself enslaved to the oppressive protection of her father, Falco. Bennington’s vocals are flawless, and her rendition of rock ballad ‘Heaven Can Wait’, is divine. Although from very different backgrounds, Strat and Raven are infinitely more similar than might initially be believed, and it is not long until their hearts are beating as one. Polec and Bennington have such a natural, unyielding chemistry, particularly evident in their duets during ‘For Crying Out Loud’, ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now’, and ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’, and it really is beautiful to watch their relationship onstage blossom as the show progresses. 

Christina Bennington (Raven) and Andrew Polec (Strat) in Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton are outstanding as Falco and Sloane, parents of Raven. Fowler’s ‘dic-tator’, Falco, views the Lost as a threat and, his protective streak hugely over-bearing, forbids his daughter from communicating with them, and with Strat in particular. Sexton’s Sloane, on the other hand, is more understanding, as she too feels trapped – trapped in a failing marriage, and sneaks out when she can, encouraging he daughter to do the same. Fowler and Sexton together are incredible and, a true source of humour, they make a great comic pairing. Their vocals magnificent, their performance of ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ is another of the show’s highlights, whilst their rendition of ‘What Part of my Body Hurts the Most’, quite possible the most moving moment of the show, is heartbreaking and, performed perfectly, evokes such emotion from the audience, many of whom are in tears at this point, if they hadn’t been so earlier.  

  Danielle Steers excels as Zahara, a member of the Lost in the employment of Falco, her voice powerfully unique, her tone deep, rich and soulful – perfect for her fiercely sassy character. Her duets opposite Wayne Robinson’s Jagwire, ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’, and ‘Dead Ringer For Love’, are phenomenal, both giving powerhouse performances. Alex Thomas-Smith is wonderful as Tink, a mutation of a mutation, frozen at a younger age than the rest of the Lost. Thomas-Smith skilfully captures this, often with displays of childish immaturity. His love for Strat sparks a bitter jealousy as he sees Strat with Raven, and this jealousy causes him to make a bad decision, which ultimately has tragic consequences for him. His solo song, ‘Not Allowed to Love’, is so touching, and he expertly shows a great vocal range as, once again, the audience are moved to tears. Giovanni Spanó and Patrick Sullivan are outstanding as Ledoux and Blake respectively, their strong vocals and weighty stage presence exceptional. Their rendition of ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror’, alongside Robinson’s Jagwire, is yet another stirring moment, and one not easily forgotten.

Sharon Sexton (Sloane) and Rob Fowler (Falco) in Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Everything about this show is louder than everything else, and this is certainly true when it comes to the show’s creative aspects. The sets, the lighting, the costumes, everything makes a bold statement, providing a fierce attack on the senses. Jon Bausor‘s set is hugely impressive. Reflective of a post-apocalyptic society, the set spans, not just the entire stage, but reaches out, looming over the audience, all-encompassing, imposing, dominating. Patrick Woodroffe‘s lighting is also notable – although predominantly a dark set, blinding lights flash intermittently, providing a great sense of duality, as though the shadow cast by Falco’s tyranny, and the subsequent darkness it brings, is pierced by the optimism, by the friendship, and by the love, of The Lost, which acts as a light against the surrounding darkness of hate.

  The show also proves a pioneer in its inventive use of pyrotechnics. Most of the show is filmed, and is streamed live – the cameraman a noticeable yet subtle presence – onto several screens located on and around the stage, with special effects used to really give a sense of movement. Such an original use of technology ensures the show is one of extraordinary scope and, with so much to see, whether in Raven’s bedroom, Falco Towers, or the tunnels of the Deep End, the audience don’t know where to look. 

Danielle Steers (Zahara) and Wayne Robinson (Jagwire) and the cast of Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Like Peter Pan, the show contains a healthy sprinkle of ‘pixie dust’ in the form of several tricks, that again ensure this show is unlike any other. For example, a table transforms into a vintage car, before being pushed into the orchestra pit (much to the annoyance of those talented musicians that play live throughout the production), a motorbike blows up, and a certain character completes a quick costume change – under water.

  In a show so good, so totally unforgettable, it is difficult, impossible even, to pick a highlight. This musical confidently bombards you with one memorable scene after another and, as soon as it takes you out of the frying pan, it throws you into the fire, and boy, is it hot!

  However, while the show is loud and flamboyant, there is a beautiful poetry to it. A story of forbidden love on a scale of Shakespearean magnitude, the relationship between Strat and Raven is not all that dissimilar to the story of Romeo and Juliet. Though this musical does not end in total tragedy for these star-crossed lovers, there are some hugely evocative moments within the show, that are so utterly poignant as to move audiences to tears. However, as with Shakespeare’s most famous love story, the love between Strat and Raven is one with the ability to heal as, ultimately, their love successfully reconciles two opposing sides – Falco and The Lost and, in doing so, captures the ethos of a true romance stemming from forbidden love, whilst revamping this genre so that, rather than seeming out of place in such a production, this is a love story that will have you all revved up – only this one will take you places you’ve never known.

Andrew Polec (Strat) and Christina Bennington (Raven) in Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  Whilst there exists a danger with jukebox musicals regarding plot, ‘Bat out of Hell’ certainly isn’t found wanting in this respect and therefore, in this way, as in so many others, it puts a proverbial ‘bat’ amongst the pigeons. Rather than simply filling the gaps between songs with a plot that is thin on the ground, both story and song here fuse together seamlessly to create a plot that is both complex and compelling, the well-written dialogue the perfect complement to the hits of Meat Loaf.

  This musical, a great show in every respect can, and should, be viewed as an exciting new precedent which, if future musicals follow suit, can themselves be led to greatness. ‘Bat out of Hell’ tears up the road upon which sit other rock musicals and, leaving them in a cloud of dust, sets out to lay down an even greater road, blazing an incredible trail towards which future musicals might aspire.

  When performed like this, the songs of Meat Loaf “never felt so good”, they “never felt so right”; Meat Loaf and Steinman certainly blessed us when they gave us these songs, and it really is “something like a dream come true” seeing them performed in this way. These songs were made, and fully deserve, to be the basis for a musical of such calibre. When watching the musical, there is no doubt that Steinman wrote such hits with a musical in mind. Each one an iconic and popular hit, successful in their own right, the songs lend themselves beautifully to this musical, and to this plot. Each song tells its own unique story, their lyrics so evocative, and so, when performed in succession alongside such a moving plot, the musical flows perfectly, the songs leading naturally into the next. Each and every one complements the friendships and budding romances between the musical’s lovingly endearing characters. An incredible tribute to an incredible, an iconic, a legendary, artist. 

Andrew Polec (Strat) and Christina Bennington (Raven) in Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

  A gift from the god of “sex and drums and rock and roll”, ‘Bat out of Hell’ has quickly secured a place in the hearts of countless fans – who want this show, who need this show, who love this show – and with good reason. Many (myself included) have seen the show more than once, and yet, no matter how many times you see this production, “there’s always something magic, there’s always something new”, and the show really does go a long way to prove that “rock and roll dreams come true”.

  A rock musical of epic proportions, ‘Bat out of Hell’ is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Or will again.

  This show will give you a taste of rock and roll paradise by taking you through the fires of hell and back. And trust me, you’re in for the ride of your life.

Andrew Polec (Strat) and Christina Bennington (Raven) in Bat out of Hell. Photo credit: Specular.

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