Posts Tagged ‘Batman Live’

A message from Theatre Punk:

As promised, here is the first review from the only darn professional on this blog! James works primarily in film journalism, but has been torn from his comfortable press screening room into the world of theatre. Keep an eye out for his reviews on here which, no doubt, will be much more insightful than anything we could write!

Over to you James…

24/08/11

Let’s get this out of the way- I am not a ‘theatre guy’. I have been to, and enjoyed, lots of productions in my time, but cannot profess the same passion for this world as others who have written on this site. However, this seems somewhat appropriate, as “Batman Live” is not your traditional type of theatre. For starters, it’s an ‘arena tour’, then there’s the multi-million pound budget, the ‘unprecedented’ (the publicity department’s words, not mine) scale… basically, this is to fringe theatre what a U2 concert is to a gig in the back of a pub.

Two reservations remained, however, as I approached the familiar dome- how will the O2 handle a theatrical production? Even if it is more of a stunt show than a play, can it hold the attention of 20,000 (most of which, no doubt, will be sugar-filled youngsters)? Secondly, the ever-present concern of whether the production will ‘get’ Batman. The world of Gotham is easy to get wrong (exhibit A- 1997’s “Batman & Robin” film), and lest we forget over in Broadway the infamous “Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark” debacle, so how will they balance the dark world of Batman whilst still keeping it family friendly?

The first thing that struck me as we waited for the gates to open was the diverse array of people in the crowd- obviously, the throng of under-10’s charging around in masks and capes, but also groups of teens, young couples, thirty-somethings, businessmen… I even saw a couple that must have been in their seventies eagerly clutching a programme. The appeal of The Dark Knight is clearly wide-reaching, or at least that was the impression before I entered… and found half of an arena. The upper half of the O2’s seating was ‘blacked out’ with curtains, leaving what I assume is just a little over half of the seats available. The website implies this is planned, as they state the show is designed for crowds of 4,000-10,000, however it did give a strange sense of intimacy to a usually vibrant arena.

First impressions of the production however, were mind-blowing. The stage was Gotham, a roughly Manhattan-shaped island with buildings, skyscrapers and at its rear a giant bat-shaped screen which would provide the background. The real marvel was to come when the show opened, and revealed the stage to be a technological marvel- buildings sunk into the stage or revolved, so the combination of this and the screen (which also opened up to accommodate bigger props) could make this stage anything they wanted it to be.

The show begins with a brief origin story of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and how revenge drove him to become Gotham’s savour- Batman. We are then transported- and I mean transported- to Gotham’s circus, complete with streamers, ‘horses’, jugglers and a trapeze show. We are then thrust into the origin story of Dick Grayson, whose parents are killed at the hands of an unknown assailant, and is put in the care of Bruce. The pair conflict with each other as Bruce struggles to keep his identity as Batman a secret, and prevent Dick from trying to seek out revenge. The murder turns out to be a plot by the evil joker, who takes over the circus and hatches a plan to destroy the Caped Crusader, using the future Boy Wonder as bait. Aiding him in this is the full rogue’s gallery, including .

The show is a wonder to look at. Every penny of the bloated budget is there on the stage, with the aesthetics genuinely feeling like a circus, Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, and many more locations. We are also treated to spectacular dancing, acrobatics, and props that would make any West End show green with envy- hot air balloons, a giant Joker head, and of course the impressive Batmobile (a modified Formula 1 car). The first act is perhaps less impressive, owing no doubt to the fact that it is trying to appeal to everyone. This act is full of backstory, and that makes for a somewhat slow pace (albeit with the welcome distraction of some wonderful acrobatics). The general tone is a little pulpy, somewhat like a Dick Tracy serial, which will not please fans of the darker Christopher Nolan interpretation (although, to be fair, that would be a tough sell to a crowd of families).

 Perhaps the scene that sums up the production’s issues is Batman’s rooftop fight with Catwoman, which is an exercise in ambition versus practicality. The way it is done feels jarring and unclear, with the scale making for a confusing set piece. Basically, it looks great but doesn’t really get you anywhere. The second half is far more entertaining, thanks almost entirely to the presence of The Joker- played by a wonderfully maniacal Mark Frost. Equal parts humorous and menacing, it’s the stand-out performance of the night. We are then treated to what we came for- fights, explosions, big props, and a frankly terrifying climactic scene (complete with hanging corpses) in Arkham Asylum.

Overall, this is a crowd pleaser, a fun family night out that tries to give everyone something to be excited about (there are darker moments that will no doubt please fans of the comics), but really is a big bucket-load of Hollywood glitter thrown in your face. A cross between a west end show and the ‘live spectaculars’ that you might find in a theme park, there’s very few that won’t find this hugely entertaining, and children will be absolutely entranced.

Length: Approx. 2 hours inc. interval (Act one: 50 mins; Act two: 45 Mins).

Programme Price: £15. (capes and masks sold separately!).

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