There’s an expectation that comes from jukebox musicals that serve as vessels for an artist’s backlog. Be it We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, or in this case Bat Out Of Hell, there’s an undeniable feeling that everything is secondary to the music itself. That’s undeniably true here. For all intents and purposes, however, that is more than enough as Bat Out Of Hell rocks the Edinburgh Playhouse with a fitting homage to both the late, great Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf.
Bat Out Of Hell is effectively a retelling of Peter Pan. It follows Strat, a member of The Lost – a mutated group of teenagers who are frozen at the age of 18 forever. He falls in love with Raven, the daughter of powerful tyrant and CEO Falco, and whisks her away from her ivory tower. Together, they set out on a motorcycle ride that will change their lives forever.
Despite the anticipation that is built as the audience enters the Playhouse to sounds of engines revving and the sight of the iconic motorcycle sitting in pride of place on the stage, the night gets off to a bit of a muddled start. This can be attributed to opening night nerves though. Fortunately, things quickly pick up as soon as Falco and his wife Sloane burst into Paradise By the Dashboard Light.
This level of intensity remains throughout the performance, bringing with it all the pomp and circumstance one would expect – pyrotechnics and confetti cannons included. Alongside Xena Gusthart’s excellent choreography and Jon Bausor’s costume and set design, the audience feels drawn into this vision of dystopian New York. Indeed, this is only aided by the presence of a live camera feed and screen on-stage throughout much of the production.
It’s a bold move to capture the action and project it out to the audience as they are simultaneously watching it on stage. While initially distracting, Bat Out Of Hell uses it smartly to create a sense of distance during scenes in Raven’s obscured bedroom. Likewise, it helps to capture a lot of subtleties and nuances that would otherwise be lost. In particular, the focus on Raven’s face during her heartfelt rendition of Heaven Can Wait really helps to capture her grief – a credit to Martha Kirby’s performance as well.
Kirby’s co-stars give equally strong turns, especially Rob Fowler who brings unrivalled exuberance to Falco, and Sharon Sexton, who balances playfulness and melancholic cynicism as Sloane. Together, they effectively steal every scene that they are in. Credit must also be given to Glenn Adamson who has the unenviable task of carrying the eponymous and succeeds in making it his own, as well as to Joelle Moses who brings a Tina Turner-esque charisma to the role of Zahara.
This not to say the show is without its issues. The plot certainly feels contrived at points but, as a catalyst to carry the cast from one Meat Loaf banger to another, it’s expected. That said, certain elements feel dated – particularly the presentation of Tink and his associated gay sub-plot. Changes have been made to it since the musical debuted in 2017, but it feels dated and out of touch. Additionally, some songs feel tacked on – chiefly Dead Ringer For Love, which feels included out of obligation rather than fitting with the narrative.
Contrivances are par for the course though and they doesn’t make Bat Out Of Hell any less fun. That’s ultimately what it is. There’s a reason the entire audience is on its feet and joining in with the final reprise. With Fowler’s heartfelt appeal to support live theatre and the encore tribute to Meat Loaf, whose passing three weeks ago is still sore to many, audiences are guaranteed to walk away with a smile on their face and pumping their fists in the air.