Review – Bat Out of Hell the musical

Bat Out of Hell the album distinguished itself by being over the top, over-reaching and ridiculously over-emotional. Fortunately, despite taking on the vast London Coliseum, the musical version retains all that, feeling out-sized and just bursting at the seams with energy and power, barely contained by the room.

The plot sees us in the familiar territory of a dystopian future where a group of teenage boys emerge from underground where their DNA has been affected so they remain permanently aged 18. For reasons that escaped my notice in all the noise their leader, Start (Andrew Polec) is obsessed by the 18 year old daughter of the leader of the above ground city of Obsidian, Raven (Chritina Bennington singing beautifully). She, of course, falls for him and the plot progresses as they attempt to fulfil their desires across the divide between the haves and have nots, the ageless and the ageing.

As well as Romeo and Juliet, there are elements of Peter Pan in the story (I read that the original album arose from a rock version of Peter Pan called Neverland). Start, perpetually 18, is of course Peter. His best friend is called Tink (Aran Macrae), who becomes jealous of Start’s blossoming romance with Raven. In a fight he ends up being killed. I thought for one moment we might be asked if we believed in fairies in an attempt to revive him (I’m sure the enthusiastic crowd would have willingly obliged), but alas, no.

This all serves, of course, as the framework into which are placed the required hits – Dead Ringer for Love, Two out of Three ain’t bad, Bat out of Hell and others you’d thought you’d forgotten but haven’t.

The songs are shared out amongst a number of talented featured performers (notably Rob Folwer’s strong presence as Falco, Sharon Sexton as Sloane, Danielle Steers as Zahara and Dom Hartley-Harris as Jagwire). They, and Andrew Polec in the lead, give performances which are high octane and committed. They don’t attempt an impersonation of Meatloaf’s original performance, but at the same time retain the sound and power of the songs. So far from feeling short-changed you feel as though you’ve watched new definitive versions of these iconic numbers.

The cast take it all very seriously, which is key to playing something like this which could so easily become self parody. But the production is not without humour, such as the musicians stomping off across the stage carrying battered instruments after a full-sized car is pushed into the pit! And I particularly enjoyed the work of the chorus in Paradise by the Dashboard Light, who threw some outrageous shapes in outlandish costumes, working their socks off in the background throughout this whole extended sequence. There are also a couple of great theatrical moments – a slow motion motorbike explosion and a quick change like you’ve never seen before.

It’s not around for long (booking to 5 August) so, unless you need the excuse of a trip to Toronto where it plays in the autumn, spend a hot summer night at The London Coliseum (P.S. low marks for customer care from the Coliseum who, on the hottest ever summer solstice, confiscated all bottles of water from audience members as they entered the theatre).

Bat Out of Hell the musical




Review – The English Heart

Set in the time between the EU Referendum and the latest General Election, writer/director Matthew Campling’s new comedy The English Heart explores how these two milestones are perceived in a part of the country far from the London bubble and what happens when someone from that bubble turns up.

Handsome city financial whizz kid Andre buys the family farmhouse being sold by married couple Jake and Marie in Boston, Lincolnshire. He wants the house as his weekend escape both from work pressures  and people. He instantly fails on both counts as he brings his work with him and, despite seeking solitude, quickly finds himself intimately involved in the lives of Jake and Marie.

He unwittingly stimulates desires in both of them, desires which they both act on enthusiastically. Marie is happy with this all the while she thinks Andre only has eyes for her. All is fun and farce until she finds out that husband Jake is also enjoying an elicit affair with their new neighbour (the giveaway clue being her husband’s boxer shorts being sucked-up when she vacuums under Andre’s bed). But we soon realise the affair has awakened genuine passion in Jake, a passion which surprises even him and leads to his attempted suicide when it is exposed. Marie realises she still loves Jake despite his infidelity, at which point Andre reappears, but in doing so shows Marie and Jake how to see him without rose tinted glasses – he’s not Andre now but plain Andrew. And he’s not a city financial whizz kid – just an accountant.

This opens all three of them up to new thinking about how they should organise their lives in a way which offers hope, love and fulfilment to everyone. And although the solution is unconventional, at the end of the play it looks like it’s working for them.

The play lasts just 70 minutes, perfect for a pub theatre venue. But in that short time Matthew Campling has crafted a delightful piece which has humour, gags, drama and emotion. We get a decent and engaging plot, genuine journeys for the three characters to go on and zippy dialogue. I’ve said before that I love pub theatre – it’s great being so close to the performers in intimate spaces.  Such spaces put pressure on actors I always think, but in this case with great results. Andrew Jardine as Andre clearly has a head start when it comes to being attractive and desirable. He also shows charm and glimpses of vulnerability, both of which help you warm to a character that could otherwise be seen as a selfish egotist who thinks nothing of destroying a marriage. Jake Williams as husband Jake starts out monosyllabically morose but quickly blossoms with child-like enthusiasm for Andre. In an even-handed three-hander he is very much the emotional centre of the piece in a highly empathetic performance. Outstanding for me was Anya Williams as Marie. She drives the drama forward and brilliantly covers the ground from frustrated to sexy to distraught to fulfilled – all with complete credibility.

The English Heart is at Etcetera Theatre, upstairs at the Oxford Arms, 265 Camden High Street, London until 2 July.

Review – Ordinary Days

Adam Gwon’s musical Ordinary Days tells us the stories of four New Yorkers over the course of a couple of days in the bustling metropolis. In the space of 70 minutes and 21 perfectly crafted musical numbers we  meet, fall in love, and are broken hearted by the intertwined worlds of Warren, Deb, Jason and Claire.

Streetlights, People!Productions have brought their version of Gwon’s musical to the London Theatre Workshop above Leadenhall Market, near London Bridge. This space, whilst small, is a polished and contemporary feeling venue providing a suitably intimate location for this up close and personal production. Each of the four performers is brimming with enthusiasm and emotion on the stage, their vocal performances almost flawless with no amplification and just a piano for support (played beautifully throughout the show by the Musical Director Rowland Brache). The set is simple by necessity but used effectively, with the lighting creating interest in place of elaborate props.

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Nora Perone ‘Deb’ and Neil Cameron ‘Warren’ in Ordinary Days. Photo by Natalie Lomako

As ‘Warren’, Neil Cameron is in many ways the narrative main thread we follow throughout Ordinary Days. His character’s naivety and optimism, disguising an overwhelming self doubt and frustration in the world. This is juxtaposed against Nora Perone’s assured and wonderfully sung performance as ‘Deb’, openly full of anger and disappointment but relentless in her belief one day life will work out for her in the way she wishes. Their on stage growing friendship is portrayed with sincerity, and their connection makes the finale of the show, and “Rooftop Duet/Falling” particularly emotional.

Alistair Frederick plays the heart on his sleeve romantic, ‘Jason’ with a boyish enthusiasm and his duet with Kirby Hughes’ ‘Claire’, “Fine”, was one of my highlights of the night. Comic timing, an undoubtable on stage chemistry and a well matched pair of vocal talents meant that the audience couldn’t help but relentlessly root for Claire and Jason. Kirby Hughes has perhaps one of the toughest jobs on stage, as her character could come off as callous or distant but a well balanced performance, along with a heartbreaking performance of “I’ll Be Here” had the audience on the verge of tears.

Throughout Ordinary Days the sheer talent of the cast and creative team shone through. A stunning production full of passion, comedy and emotion. If you can get down to Leadenhall Market to see it then please do.

Ordinary Days runs until 17 June 2017 at London Theatre Workshop. Tickets are available HERE.

It’s also heading up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer from 2 to 28 August.