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BWW Review: BAT OUT OF HELL, New Wimbledon Theatre

Loud, anarchic and excessive; Jim Steinman's unrestrained music carries a wafer-thin plot

BWW Review: BAT OUT OF HELL, New Wimbledon Theatre

BWW Review: BAT OUT OF HELL, New Wimbledon Theatre The songs of Meat Loaf and J.M Barrie's story of Peter Pan are not an immediately obvious combination, but Bat Out Of Hell attempts to fuse these elements with hints of West Side Story, Rock Of Ages and Wagner-esque unrestrained theatricality.

In the futuristic and dystopian setting of a violent city, a group named The Lost remain permanently stuck at the age of 18. Their leader, Strat, falls in love with Raven, whose father rules the city with an iron fist and keeps her locked up in a high-rise tower. What follows is a schlocky and rather disjointed story of how Strat and Raven fight to be together while her parents' marriage falls apart.

The late Jim Steinman, who wrote the music and lyrics for Meat Loaf's trilogy of "Bat Out Of Hell" albums, clearly drew on his show Neverland. As with so many jukebox musicals, the plot is as thin as paper, with multiple plot lines that never develop. It may have been better if Steinman had got some help with the writing.

The fact is that the show is more about the music; this is not a great musical, but it is a good show. Steinman's work is so theatrical and dramatic it sometimes verges on overblown, but the soaring drama of the music is well matched by the vocal talent on stage, even if there are frequent moments of silliness.

The often-shirtless Glenn Adamson gives a commanding performance as irreverent and pretentious street poet Strat; he almost vibrates with sinuous, manic energy; wide-eyed and sticking his tongue out too often. His voice does lack some of the raspy, rock qualities that might be expected in the role, but his range and power are impressive and build well throughout the show.

Martha Kirby is a sweet but steely Raven, who also builds up to a more striking performance in the second half. She spends a lot of time sprawling on the stage floor, but her soprano has a clean and pure quality and she gives a particularly touching rendition of "Heaven Can Wait", performed when she believes Strat is dead.

There is a lack of chemistry between the young pair, often overshadowed by the more interesting cavorting of Raven's parents. Rob Fowler as Falco and Sharon Sexton as his long-suffering wife Sloane get some of the best of the action, visibly struggling with the disintegration of their once-vibrant love affair. Fowler and Sexton both have great voices and make the most of having the most depth to their characters.

The music is heaven for any Meat Loaf fan. A highlight is "It's All Coming Back to Me Now", which was sung by Meat Loaf as a duet with Marion Raven on Bat Out of Hell III, which works incredibly well as a rousingly melodramatic quartet for the lovers and her parents. The live band is on excellent and very loud form.

The hard-working ensemble is given quite a few individual opportunities to shine. Joelle Moses is woefully underwritten as a character as Zahara, but her voice is a standout with its soulful tone and controlled power. She is teamed nicely with James Chisholm as the confident Jagwire.

Visually, director Jay Scheib creates a dynamic show with some lightly comic moments involving hand santiser and musicians with broken instruments climbing out of the orchestra pit after an accident with an engine. This is aided by Jon Bausor's elegantly wasted set and Finn Ross's clever video design. However, against the background of smoke, fire and strobing lights, Xena Gusthart's incredibly stilted choreography looks awkward and lacklustre; it seems very odd that this crucial element has not been updated during the years that this show has been running.

There is certainly not enough of a storyline to sustain the two and half hour show, but there is huge energy in the performances and the music is loud and brash enough to both entertain and enliven.

Bat Out Of Hell is at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 29 January, then touring

Photo Credit: Clive Davis Studio

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