A rebellious streak runs through this batty show. It’s in the teenage characters fighting against authority and against adulthood, in the unconventional and rhapsodic structures of Jim Steinman’s knock-out songs, made famous by Meat Loaf. The show’s even rebelling against its own venue, this bonkers, hell-raising spectacle profaning the traditionally staid home of English National Opera.
But it feels like the relentless, thrumming power chords and shrieking voices in Jay Scheib’s production are blowing away the Coliseum’s cobwebs. They’re pumping it full of revolution and rock ’n’ roll.
Bat Out of Hell has come a long way from a work-in-progress musical 40 years ago. Originally called Neverland, and loosely based on Peter Pan, songwriter Jim Steinman penned a few numbers, while Meat Loaf acted in it. Reckoning they had some hits on their hands they recorded an album – Bat out of Hell, one of the bestselling of all time.
Back on stage 40 years later those songs, and other Steinman classics (It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, I Would Do Anything for Love) bind together a flimsy story of post-apocalyptic Manhattan where a group of perpetually young boys, led by Strat, hide from the city’s evil overlord Falco. Strat falls in love with Falco’s daughter Raven and they elope.
If it all sounds a bit silly, well it is. These teenagers who can’t grow up are forever at an age of raging hormones and the show never forgets it as they literally, physically fight against the man, embodied by Rob Fowler’s sexed-up Falco.
The Lost Boys wear leather and flares, headbands and mascara (Jon Bausor and Meentje Nielsen’s fun designs) and sing ever-crescendoing power ballads with the utmost fervour – none more so than the extraordinary Andrew Polec as Strat.
Making his UK debut, Polec conceals in his thin, constantly topless frame an immense voice. He’s supported by a uniformly excellent cast – particularly Danielle Steers as Zahara, one of Strat’s pack, and Sharon Sexton as Falco’s wife Sloane providing comic relief.
A giant lattice lurches over the audience in Bausor’s mighty set, a huge Trump-style skyscraper soars into the flytower. Everything is in lurid colours, but smeared in post-apocalyptic grime, like a comic book come to life. Although set in the future, in many ways this feels old-fashioned, like a huge 1980s arena gig, intensified by Patrick Woodroffe’s blazing lighting.
Every moment of awful dialogue (Steinman can write songs, but is pretty weak on character) is a moment when the huge cast is not bashing out some awesome ballad, and the show occasionally suffers for it. The badly balletic choreography – huge lines of dancers all flapping their hands – looks messy and childlike.
But for its shortcomings, this extraordinarily silly production – like Rocky Horror in its self-awareness – is proof that a few stonking songs can sustain a show, and can bring a theatre and its audience thrillingly alive. Bonkers it may be but, hell, it’s pretty brilliant too.