Bat Boy**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: January 15, 2015 in Theatre

bat boy

No, this production does not mark the arrival of a caped super-hero at Elephant & Castle, much as the area needs a little tough love. Bat Boy turn out to be another in the line of rock musicals which spoof both that genre and 1950s horror B movies. It had a troubled five-month run in the West End nine years ago, but it is easy to see why it would find its spiritual home on the fringe and Luke Fredericks’ production, choreographed by Joey McNeely, for Morphic Graffiti duly milks it for all it is worth. The story takes strands from Frankenstein, King Kong and other classics, telling of a creature, half boy and half bat, who begins as a monster and turns into a victim. Arriving in Hope Falls, West Virginia, the boy, adopted by the Parker family and given the name Edgar, yearns for acceptance and aspires to follow the American dream. However, once he starts taking bites out of members of the community, his hopes falter. Whist this is going on, the book by Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming is also taking bites, savaging the values of small town America with wicked satire, spiced-up by suggestions of horrific violence and unspeakable taboos. Not a second of this is meant to be taken seriously, but the first half hour grates a little, due in part to the predictability of the plot and in part to the deliberate banality of the songs. However, along comes the brilliant Show You A Thing Or Two, in which Edgar completes a full education in around five minutes, and the production catches fire. Thereafter, the show tugs at our emotions whilst always asking us to mock it, the book and the songs (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe) working perfectly in tandem. The second half begins with a huge bang, as the town Preacher (Simon Bailey) takes the lead on A Joyful Noise, a song and dance routine reminiscent of Rhythm Of Life (from Sweet Charity) and almost as good. As Edgar, Rob Compton, a little older than the script suggests, keeps the right balance between the freakish and the pitiable, whilst Matthew White as the villainous Parker, Lauren Ward as his excessively maternal wife and Georgina Hagen as their sweet-natured daughter all strike the right note. We are used to this venue being configured with a traverse stage for musicals and the first reaction is one of disappointment when seeing a conventional theatre lay-out; however the reason soon becomes obvious with the extensive use of projections both for sets and hilarious film sequences which cement the link between the show and tacky old films. In all, a real treat.

Performance date: 14 January 2015

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