Review: Bat Out of Hell (King's Theatre Glasgow)
Updated: Jun 1
Musicals often feed into their target audience’s fantasies. As the motorbikes rev their thunderous engines outside the theatre, audience members in band t-shirts and kilts take their seats, and scantily-clad women pose suggestively in the preamble on stage, one might expect fantasy of Bat out of Hell to cater solely to the ageing male rock fan. One might expect sex, drugs, and rock and roll, all shown through the reductive lens of the male gaze, a la Rock of Ages, which came to Glasgow a couple of years ago. But this show, with music by Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman and directed by Jay Schieb, far exceed those expectations.
Upon first seeing Raven, played by Martha Kirby, the obvious assumption is that she will be relegated to the role of shallow love interest for the hero Strat, played by Glenn Adamson. We quickly learn that not only is she far from being merely a prize, but she is a heroine herself, perhaps even the main character. Kirby’s performance is dazzling, and her singing sends shivers down your spine, especially with numbers like “Heaven Can Wait”. Adamson is never overpowered by her performance, however, and the synergy in their duets and their dancing is electric.
The other love story in play is that between Raven’s parents Falco and Sloan (Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton), whose marriage has fallen into decay after their whirlwind romance as teenagers. Both give fantastic performances as a villainous suit and his boozed-up wife, leading to a wild scene of lovemaking in the back of a car, accompanied by sport-style commentator and climaxing with an engine being launched into the orchestra pit and met with a flurry of sheet music. That’s a scene to write home about. At points, Sexton seems to run out of steam towards the end of her numbers, but it is easily forgiven on the back of her bold and pitiable portrayal.
The landscape of these budding and renewing romances is a dystopian future in which a group of eighteen-year-olds, The Lost, have been mutated by chemicals and are doomed to stay the same age forever. The story takes its cues from Peter Pan, with a love forging across two worlds, the challenge of loving someone who will never grow up, and a storyline in which a younger boy, named Tink, betrays his peers when Strat falls for Raven instead of him. It is a welcome queer plotline that, thanks to Schieb’s direction, never stoops to stereotypes. The design and choreography of this landscape is something to behold; it combines glam rock aesthetic with rocky ruinous surroundings, and costumes which could be mistaken for the fashion styles of the young ones you might find at Four Corners or outside GoMa. By contrast, one-third of the stage is dedicated to Raven’s bedroom in her wealthy home, veiled from view, which we see through the lens of an ever-present cameraperson, who shoots each scene as though it is a music video for a rock power ballad.
Bat Out of Hell is a perfect example of how the spectacle of musicals can totally transport an audience. It defies expectations about gender portrayals and creates an atmosphere in which even the goofiest of Meatloaf lyrics (for example “if life is a highway his soul was just a car”) seem plausible. Often “fun” describes a show worth seeing in spite of its flaws. But not only is Bat Out of Hell fun enough to be worth seeking out, but this is a musical so fun it demands to be seen. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
I thought it was fantastic! You know we’re just coming back to shows now, and what a great show to come back to.
It was a great production.
Yes! Fantastic singing, I’d tell people just to come see it.