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Bat Out Of Hell (Peacock Theatre) and touring

(seen at the afternoon performance on 18th March 2023)

“Shrinkflation” – charging the same for your product but reducing the weight is everywhere. Hundreds of baffled “Bat Out Of Hell” fans noted this afternoon that they were leaving the theatre at least twenty minutes earlier than they expected to... and each noticed the absence of fondly remembered songs and sequences from previous incarnations of the show.

The odd thing is that in some ways the event is almost better for its crash diet. Sure, many of the changes were probably necessitated by the economies of touring in these difficult times, but at least a few leave the show tighter and with a more focussed storyline, such as it is.

Unfortunately, more noticeable than the removal of actual songs or the best and most spectacular joke ever perpetrated on a West End stage (after “Bernadette The Musical” obviously), is that the sheer jaw-dropping audacity, goofball kook with an anarchic kick is gone. It is replaced by something slicker and more corporate. Still enjoyable enough, but this is in some ways the diet version of the original.

Much better news is that the cast are outstanding. Glenn Adamson is a lithe outlaw, not quite as smart in love as he thinks but more than willing to do anything for it. His Strat is more open, kinder and less cynical than predecessors, but still rocks as required.

It is easy to believe that Alexandra Doar’s Raven knows the territory and has been around. Less vulnerable than her own predecessors in the role, she brings credibility to the relationship – her emotional maturity rubbing off on the entire lost tribe. For the audience, her restored act two solo and enormous voice shake the venue as the creators would have wanted.

Jayme-Lee Zanoncelli gives a stunning vocal performance too as Zahara, both alone and in duet with the equally impressive James Chisholm as love-lorn Jagwire.

Notes too for Danny Whelan as Ledoux and Katie Tonkinson as Valkyrie – both of whose objects in the rear view mirror are probably musical theatre prizes. 

In that department we can add Matteo Johnson’s Tink. The role has taken some of the larger cuts in the show, but Johnson still makes a movingly characterful impact. 

Under Xena Gusthart and Dance Captain Rory Maguire the ensemble routines are some of the strongest the show has seen, one major improvement appears to be some of the crowded numbers now have a cleaner visual line, contributing rather than dissipating the energy of some scenes and allowing cast members including James Lowrie (Denym) and Beth Woodcock (Spinotti) to claim moments. Newcomer Woodcock in particular should prove useful to casting directors in years to come.

The monkey has covered set and projections previously, but also was impressed that Patrick Woodroffe’s simplified touring lighting scheme is able to alter the rather sterile atmosphere of the Peacock’s modernist auditorium.

If the show is now more tennis racquet than bat, and perhaps not exuded quite as boldly from fiery depths, it remains an energetic stick of rock with the legendary names Jim Steinman and Meatloaf running right the way through forever.

(4 stars)

Photo credit: Chris Davis Studio. Used by kind permission.

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