Bat Out of Hell - Manchester Opera House
Welcome to Spoiler Central. Do not read on if for whatever reason (usually because you haven’t seen it for yourself yet) you do not wish to know anything about the 2021/22 touring production of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical.
It is simply not possible to replicate the grandeur of the 2017 (and 2018-19) West End productions of Bat: constructing a pool in each venue, for instance, isn’t going to happen. Neither is constructing a set complex enough to accommodate an entire car being plunged into the orchestra pit. And so it is that Raven (Martha Kirby) opens the bonnet, extracts the engine, and hurls that at the orchestra instead. The result is the same, with members of the orchestra making stage appearances with broken instruments, apparently for comic effect. Kirby has more to do than her predecessor Ravens, or so it would seem: the opening ‘speech’, ‘Love and Death and the American Guitar’ has been reassigned to her. She does a great job of it, and introduces nuances that simply weren’t there before when one of the Strats would invariably scream most of it. There’s a riff at the end of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ that I rather liked, though purists may dislike the singular high note from the Christina Bennington era being dispensed with.
I am talking about a show still in previews, and as there have been changes to Bat even long after press night during previous runs, this living, breathing organism could yet change substantially over time again. Glenn Adamson’s Strat is still (at the time of writing) a work in progress – there isn’t quite the level of swagger and confidence (and therefore stage presence) that the role requires to be truly convincing, but I suspect that will develop sufficiently as the tour goes on. It’s very early days yet and all that, and he seemed to be enjoying himself on stage.
Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Falco and Sloane are the only cast members from the previous productions still going strong in the same roles. I will not, therefore, regurgitate the superlatives that have been said previously, as they still very much apply. ‘In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King’ has been excised completely from the second half. Whether it is a trade-off or not, I’ve no idea, but ‘Good Girls Go To Heaven’ now appears in the encore, in a similar manner to ‘Waterloo’ being tacked on to the end of Mamma Mia!
Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) is beaten to a pulp by Falco (who still calls him Blink, Stink, and so on) but not to death. Previously, Tink dies of a gunshot wound – the revision to his story results in a happier ending. Whilst the heartache of tragedy is missing, so is the defiance and emotional depth in ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’. Earlier, ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’ doesn’t have the narrative context it once did, so has become a song that’s just there, sung very well but not driving the storyline forward, rather like ‘Dead Ringer for Love’. Outside the four leading roles, Danny Whelan’s Ledoux stood out vocally for me.
No pool means no baptism, and so Falco is instead seemingly beaten up by ‘The Lost’ during ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, and has a change of costume in that process. Falco and Tink spit on their gentlemen’s handshake ‘deal’, after which Falco applies hand sanitiser, and one would assume Tink does the same, albeit off-stage. Fortunately or unfortunately the ‘pink pants’ are retained (if you know, you know). Some elements of the previous productions are much missed, and while one is tempted to conclude that “it was so much better than it is today”, this is still a show that gripped me from start to finish.