Bat Out Of Hell, New Theatre Oxford

Fans will no doubt revel in recognition of their favourite songs during this rock opera based upon the epic power ballads of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, but there is plenty to entertain those of us less au fait with the oeuvre (I recognised maybe three, much to the disgust of my Meatloaf-loving plus one).

With huge song after huge song, it would have been easy for the energy to wane, but the cast did a tremendous job handling the unrelenting epic-ness. How on earth they keep up that energy and intensity night after night, especially after such a long period without being able to flex their musical theatre muscles, is miraculous. There were stand-out vocal performances from Glenn Adamson at Strat, Sharon Sexton as Sloane and Rob Fowler as Falco. Kellie Gnauck, playing the lead role of Raven for the very first time, captured the essence of a tempestuous teenager perfectly.

As anyone familiar with the lyrics of the music featured will no doubt know already, the plot is at best bizarre and in some parts unfathomable. Peter Pan meets…sewage grunge? At one point, an engine was thrown into the orchestra pit which, though it set up a reasonable gag, came otherwise out of the blue. Choreography was boyband at best, and while the set design was as highly-powered as the ballads, the inclusion of a projected handheld camera and semi-visible room made it quite difficult to watch at times.

While they can’t promise this at every opening night, the Oxford team arranged for the local Harley Davidson group to rev their way past in convoy while we queued to prove our covid status. I’m not sure my ear drums will ever be the same, but it was worth it. Special mention too to the Deliveroo driver, who when he found himself caught in the melee, joined right in from his scooter. A memorable night for all concerned.

I’m not convinced it was the best night out I could have with my clothes on (as the publicity suggests), but it was hard not to get caught up in the sheer joy that spread throughout the near sell-out crowds. The standing ovation it received was, though not necessarily warranted by the show in itself, testament to how grateful we are to have theatre and live music back in our lives. It also made it much easier to join in with a joyous final boogie.

You can see Bat Out Of Hell in Oxford until Saturday 16th October. Catch it on tour all over the UK well into 2022.

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