★★★★★ (5 stars)
Bat Out of Hell: Meatloaf musical is so bad, it blows your socks off (in a good way)
I think we need a new term – quantum theatre – to describe productions such as this which are terrible but gloriously brilliant at the same time.
Jim Steinman's original concept for the songs on the Bat out of Hell albums was for a musical based on Peter Pan, and here is a rock opera in London's Coliseum, home to the English National Opera. It's not out of place, despite the dystopian staging stretching out into Frank Matcham's gilded Victorian variety styling.
The plot is thin and cliched and the dialogue – of which there's a fair amount in the first half – stilted. There's also some bad teenage poetry. But what Steinman lacks as a playwright he makes up as a song writer.
The flamboyant, exuberant, Spectorish walls of noise with their witty, knowing lyrics – given such bombast by Meatloaf – are here turned up to 11 with the musical theatre treatment. And just wow. It's part musical, part gig, with lighting by the rock group's go to man, Patrick Woodroffe, it's loud, exhilarating, and blows your socks off.
The lost boys have been frozen at the age of 18 – when their hormones and recklessness are at their peak. The city of Obsidian is ruled by a Trump-like figure known as Falco. Strat (all the names are ridiculous) the leader of the lost boys is in love with Falco's daughter Raven on the eve of her 18th birthday and – well, you can guess the rest.
It's Grease, West Side Story, Cry Baby, Starlight Express, and Tommy all rolled into one, with a bit of Twilight for good measure.
There's a Brechtian flourish (a camera woman in the middle of the action films scenes which are projected on clusters of TVs and screens across the stage) to tell us not to take it all too seriously.
Andrew Polec as Strat – a dreamy bad boy Tommy look alike – draws cheers before he's even opened his mouth when he's about to launch into the finale “I'd Do Anything for Love” – which has the entire audience on its feet.
Danielle Steers as Zahara, steals the show, however, with her Cher+ voice with the two numbers – “Two Out of Three Ain't Bad”, and “Deadringer for Love” – her subplot allows.
Steinman's music is a paean for all things teenage: sex, cars, bikes, rock and roll but mostly love which – for all its cheap sentiment, idealism and naivety – is a height of emotion most of us never revisit.
His songs, such as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”, “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” – mix the everyday with passion, longing, and humour.
Bat out of Hell is gloriously over the top – but as the characters keep saying, you have to go over the top to know what's on the other side.