Bat Out of Hell review at Dominion Theatre, London – ‘ridiculous, overblown, baffling – and a joy’
It’s good to be back in Jim Steinman’s world, a world full of too much leather and picaresque songs in which the words “rock’n’roll” are used without irony. Now in place at the 2,000-seat Dominion Theatre – 300 seats fewer than the London Coliseum where it premiered last year – this post-apocalyptic, ballad-stuffed quasi-opera feels like it’s come home.
That’s not only because of the similarities it bears to We Will Rock You – dystopia, stupid names, singalong smash hits – which dominated the Dominion for 12 years. It’s also that the show fits into this stage and space a lot better. Even something as ridiculously huge as Bat Out of Hell still made the Coliseum feel a little roomy.
The Dominion is slightly less huge and, perversely, that decrease in size makes the show fill out more, makes it seem bigger. Crucially, however, it has the capacity to feel more intimate too. Some of the quieter numbers (although that’s a relative term when it comes to Steinman’s music) such as Heaven Can Wait don’t feel so swallowed up.
There are improvements on its Coliseum run: the live video projections, mostly on to gauze, were blurry and unfocused then but have sharpened up here and work a lot better. Sharon Sexton’s character Sloane seems to have become more drunk between then and now, simultaneously slurring and belting her way brilliantly through her songs.
She and Rob Fowler as her nefarious husband, the overlord Falco who rules the city Obsidian, are particularly good in this incarnation. Their duet, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most, is epic, and a surprisingly moving look at a failing marriage, sung with the sharpest, tightest harmonies. That song, as well as the randy bombast of Paradise by the Dashboard Light, almost gives those two the edge over the mighty Andrew Polec, who won the Joe Allen Best West End Debut Award at The Stage Debut Awards last year, still absolutely bossing it as Strat.
At one point the music suddenly drops and it becomes clear how loudly and vastly it’s filling this massive space, and how clever Michael Reed’s arrangements are. He’s brought musical texture to match Steinman’s lyrical texture.
Annoyingly, the transfer has missed out on a couple of opportunities for improvement. The choreography still makes it look like a 1990s aerobics video, all arm-led, as if they’re trying to swat flies. The secondary characters are still underdeveloped and should either have been expanded or else erased.
That’s no slight on the performers. Danielle Steers as Zahara is as amazing as ever, and newcomer Wayne Robinson playing her man Jagwire is a very welcome addition. And it’s easy to see why they’re there: the auxiliary couples provide opportunities for some of the best songs, including a gorgeous rendition of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
In the second half the dialogue eases up, the hits come thicker and faster – It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, I’d Do Anything for Love, Dead Ringer for Love – and it’s a complete joy.