Bat Out of Hell - Swansea Arena
There were social media influencers invited to Bat Out of Hell the Musical back in January 2022 when I saw the show at New Wimbledon Theatre (a few days after press night, Meat Loaf died). It’s a world I still know next to nothing about, but I didn’t exactly have a good experience with an influencer sat in the row in front of mine at Swansea Arena. The need to constantly check her phone and provide social media updates during the show was one thing (something, I hasten to add, very unlikely to have been sanctioned by the show’s producers), but she evidently had far too much to drink, and unlike her companion immediately to the right of her, who had also overdone it but was just quietly trying to lay low and take in as much of the show as she could, the lady’s conversational volume rose and rose until even the title number at the end of the first act couldn’t be heard properly. Attempts to shush were more than easily drowned out by her, and interestingly a venue security officer had a word with someone else in the same row, but not our esteemed influencer.
Being in the very front row, her yelling, cackling and – wait for it – vaping, had almost undoubtedly distracted the cast somewhat too, laughing as she was at the top of her lungs at her own jokes during inappropriate moments. I can’t say for certain whether what happened a minute or two before the interval was deliberate, but either way, the show’s lead actor, Glenn Adamson, has even more of my respect than ever before.
A little background before the punchline. The show’s staging has been revised. There used to be, in the touring production, a large gap between the front of the stage and the front row of the stalls. This was to facilitate a scene in ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ where the ‘engine’ would be removed from the on-stage ‘car’ (inverted commas mine, because it looks like a car, but it’s not an actual motorized vehicle anyone can actually drive), and in a fit of frustration, thrown into the orchestra pit. Members of the ensemble, dressed in smart clothes like the ones worn by members of a symphony orchestra (or indeed a posh restaurant), would climb up from the pit, with broken instruments that had apparently been struck by the engine being thrown down.
All of that has gone, with Raven (Kelly Gnauck) instead pouring petrol over the car, pushing it off-stage through the ‘tunnel’ upstage right, and setting it alight. So the front of the stage is now conventionally close to the audience, and with the band (at least for Swansea) positioned elsewhere, it’s not the musical director’s score that bears the brunt of fake blood splattered by Strat, but – if whoever it is playing Strat chooses to do so – the front row. So it was that Glenn either deliberately or inadvertently directed some fake blood at Madam Influencer. Splat. Stroke (or, rather, flick) of genius. She did not return after the interval. The gentleman sat immediately to my left and myself also got splattered, the picture below showing my right hand even after I thought I had rinsed it all off with soap and water. Goodness me, whatever that fake blood is made up of, it’s sticky.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t miss any of the sections cut from this version of the show. Strat and Raven, unless I missed it somehow, no longer marry, and Tink (Matteo Johnson), rather than informing Falco (Rob Fowler) that the young lovers are ‘celebrating their union’, instead goes for literally spelling out ‘S-E-X’ as though he were a school prefect snitching to the headmaster. Johnson’s Tink is also denied ‘Not Allowed to Love’, excised in its entirety from the show, and instead has a brief reprise of ‘For Crying Out Loud’, expressing a love for Strat which he feels is no longer reciprocated because Strat’s attention is on his girlfriend Raven. This Tink is altogether more vulnerable than his predecessors, and oozes genuine emotion negotiating his ‘deal’. Later, still dressed in a werewolf-esque costume, he bites Falco’s arm, hard, presumably out of fear, which (sort of) gives Falco agency to retaliate (in the same way as before), and not necessarily disproportionately.
Some poetical lines just before ‘For Crying Out Loud’ have disappeared. Is the entire c-c-city b-b-b-urning? Can you see the f-f-flames like the inside of a mad jukebox? Do motorcycles reproduce in nocturnal alleys? Have they (whoever ‘they’ are) blown up the YWCA like a giant balloon and sent it out to sea? Nobody knows, and nobody cares.
Some of the costumes are significantly more glamorous. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that – the ensemble are more often than not dressed as though they’re off to a sparkly and glittery party, a substantial move away from the grubby costumes of previous casts. How much has Falco, the tyrannical (but also playful) ruler of a dystopian principality, really gone after members of ‘The Lost’, a group he allegedly loves to persecute on account of them being ‘mutant freaks’? They look great, but the flipside is they don’t look like they need deliverance from a reign of terror.
‘Objects’ sounds glorious, thanks to the new Valkyrie, Katie Tonkinson, who is vocally as strong as Danny Whelan’s Ledoux. Musical director Iestyn Griffiths, who used to be seen during ‘Paradise’, is introduced during the pre-show announcement at Swansea before anything else (he’s a Welshman MD-ing in Wales) and joins the cast briefly at curtain call. Videographer Claire Buxton makes her way to where the band is after her own bow, allowing the audience to see them on the large screen. I’ve been told the show is taking no set from the UK and Europe dates to Australia and New Zealand, with a heavy reliance on still and moving projections. There will also be no interval for the Australia and New Zealand arena leg of the international tour, which will inevitably mean even more ruthless cuts. Such is the business called show.