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The week that was...

Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton in Bat Out of Hell the Musical

I have just about managed to keep out of trouble by busying myself tackling a ‘to do’ list over the festive period: some of the fallouts I am hearing and reading about both face-to-face and on social media have been far from pleasant, to say the least. Although there are no reviews in the last few days of the calendar year (well, not for me, anyway) this doesn’t mean I’ve stayed away from live performances. It will come as no surprise to those who know me well (and even those who know me a little) that with my evenings free for a little while, Bat Out of Hell The Musical has re-grabbed my attention, not least because what (to me) is the most stunning show for some years will be closing its doors very soon.

I write this prior to attending the last of their ‘singalong’ performances (my twenty-first visit to the show, for those who like to ask) – not that I sing along, because one has to be able to sing in the first place in order to do that – though it is a lot of fun. There’s a difference between going to a press night and going to a ‘regular’ performance, especially when, as has been the case at Bat, a number of understudies and swings have been on recently, unsurprising for any large-scale production with extra performances at Christmas and New Year. I was particularly impressed by Barney Wilkinson, the second cover in the lead role of Strat, whose powerhouse singing voice is highly suited to these Jim Steinman rock anthems. What’s more, I wasn’t underwhelmed by anyone, and when I popped back for what the show’s groupies call ‘Baturday night’, Jordan Luke Gage’s Strat, while distinctly different, really was very much ‘Bat Out of Hell The Musical’ – in other words, if it’s a musical theatre treatment of the Meat Loaf back catalogue you’re after, Gage is your man.

I am getting asked with alarming regularity how I will cope after next weekend (the musical’s final show is on 5th January 2019). I’ll be fine, I say: and I will be, because the closing date has been known for some time, and I’ve gone back more than enough times and had more than enough of a good time, thank you very much. As Dr Seuss apparently once wrote, “Do not cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” All good things come to an end and all that, and there are the new shows to look forward to, such as Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen.

From the big stage to the pavement, albeit Regent Street. As I had a bit of spare time, I used the buses rather than the tubes for getting around central London recently, and found myself observing from the top deck some of the entertainers employed by Hamleys Toy Store. Among them was Mike Rogers, the ‘elf’ whose performance was captured by an Alice Orr-Ewing, who tweeted about it – the video went ‘viral’, apparently resulting in offers of representation from agents impressed with Rogers’ enthusiasm. Regent Street was sufficiently crowded with Christmas shoppers that it was surprising Rogers and his colleagues managed to keep dancing at the front of the store without bumping into anyone. I wish him every success.

Mike Rogers, of Hamleys Toy Store, Regent Street, London, leads colleagues in an improvised dance

With justification, the price of theatre tickets is a continuing point of discussion amongst those considering splashing out on a treat. Consider, for instance, the £149.50 top price band to see Snow White at the London Palladium. £598 for a family of four to go to the panto! There are cheaper seats, of course. And there are ways and means of not going into the red just to see a show: I went to a performance of True West at the Vaudeville Theatre, and paid £25 for a stalls seat. I found it to be a rather seasonal play, not because there were tidings of comfort and joy – far from it – but because it was quite the opposite, and seeing the bickering and sibling rivalry between Lee (Johnny Flynn) and Austin (Kit Harington) must bring to mind memories for many in the audience who at one time or another, but particularly in late December, find themselves in the company of people who they would ideally not want to be in the same room with, to say the least.

​Even more reasonably priced, although I should really consider the return train fare from London Marylebone to Gerrards Cross, and even that wasn’t that much, was a double bill from VPA Productions. The first, a children’s version of Elf the Musical, which ran comfortably without an interval, was a little like watching one of those summer showcases put on by drama schools and colleges for the final year students to demonstrate their abilities, in the sense that everyone on stage is more or less the same age, but suspension of disbelief requires that they are not.

Chester the Jester (Jamie Stewart) in 'Sleeping Beauty' at Colston Hall, Gerrards Cross

The second, a Sleeping Beauty panto, had all the ingredients one would reasonably expect from a family show, though I still haven’t figured out why anyone would name-drop Theresa May more than once in a show of this nature (or any other public figure, for that matter) without actually going anywhere with it. The performance I attended was a Sunday afternoon one, and the post-lunch slump had taken hold. Chester The Jester (Jamie Stewart, who also directed) was having none of it, almost jumping off the stage to buoy up those who had somehow forgotten the call and response nature of a pantomime. the most memorable number was a Scottish-accented rendering of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, while Dame Dolly Dumpling (Christopher Howard, of Cats, Whistle Down the Wind and Les Misérables fame) was the stand-out performance for me.

This, then, was the year I got myself a new boiler in time for the winter. I finally forked out for air-conditioning, though as aircon installers had a particularly busy summer it was already late August before mine was up and running. I can see clearly again, too, having bought varifocals for the first time. I very nearly resigned from the day job due to a sudden relocation, which then never happened, so I stayed put. Football was definitely coming home, or so the bar staff at Chichester Festival Theatre said to me when I was there for a performance of ‘Me and My Girl’ which happened to be on at the same time as a certain World Cup sporting fixture. I was down to review another show in east London that got cancelled due to the football fever gripping the nation: and then, as it transpired, football was definitely not coming home. I overdid it at the Edinburgh Fringe, seeing 33 shows in eight days, still only one per cent of the total number of productions there in 2018.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

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