Theatre reviews: Bat Out of Hell | The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby are outstanding as the star-crossed lovers in a blistering production of Bat Out of Hell at the Playhouse, writes Joyce McMillan
Bat Out Of Hell at the Playhouse Theatre in EdinburghBat Out Of Hell at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh
Bat Out Of Hell at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh

Bat Out Of Hell, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

In the past year, both of the creative spirits behind Bat Out Of Hell – the iconic series of albums, dating back to 1977, and the 2017 musical based on them, now playing in Edinburgh – have left us. Jim Steinman, songwriter and playwright, died in April last year, aged just 74; and Meat Loaf himself, Marvin Lee Adey, the mighty rock performer whose voice and presence made the albums global best sellers, died just last month, at the same age.

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In their honour, an impressive procession of grey-bearded bikers roared through Edinburgh to form a guard of honour outside the Playhouse, as Bat Out Of Hell opened there on Tuesday; and there’s also a great deal to enjoy in the current UK touring version of the show, a blistering two and a half hours of around 20 Meat Loaf classics, built – like the 1977 album itself – around a Peter Pan theme, and set in a dystopian future where the wealthy live a life of privilege in high glass towers, while the rest of the population, doomed by an ecological disaster to be forever 18, live rock-and-roll lives of poverty and creativity on the streets.

There’s sometimes a slight unevenness about the show, with events in the apartment of the privileged Falco family – a spectacular glassed-in space on stage – filtered through live cameras onto big onstage screens, while the scenes on the street have more theatrical immediacy. Yet Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, as Falco and his increasingly rebellious wife Sloane – along with a stunning Joelle Moss as Zahara, one of the leaders of the “lost” – still deliver outstanding performances, alongside Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby as the show’s star-crossed young lovers, and a terrific 20-strong ensemble. The music is belted out magnificently by musical director Robert Emery and his seven-piece band; and when Rob Fowler pauses during the final curtain call to pay tribute to Steinman and Meat Loaf, and to pledge the company to the task of keeping their rock and roll spirit alive, the Playhouse audience fairly roars its approval; and asks – of course – for just one more song.

At the King’s in Edinburgh, meanwhile, audiences have a brief chance to catch Leeds Playhouse’s 2017 musical version of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis’s classic children’s story, first published in 1950. Like Bedknobs And Broomsticks – which arrives at the Festival Theatre next week – The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe is inspired by the experience of wartime evacuation, and therefore has a slightly nostalgic post-Brexit atmosphere, at least initially.

As soon as the four Pevensie children reach the magic land of Narnia, though, the mood of Michael Fentiman’s production becomes much more wild and radical, a kind of ecological adventure in which it’s necessary to make alliances with the animal kingdom, and defeat the forces of evil – embodied by a slightly subdued Samantha Womack as the White Witch – in order to set the Narnian climate back to rights. And by the end, the King’s family audience are fairly cheering the Pevensies on, in their amazing adventure; thanks to four fine performances from Ammar Duffus, Robyn Sinclair, Shakah Kalokoh and Karine Yansen as the children, to their wonderful animal allies, and to the awe-inspiringly beautiful huge lion puppet, designed by Max Humphries, that captures the spirit of Narnia’s saviour, Aslan, and begins the process of setting the children’s magical kingdom to rights.

Bat Out Of Hell is at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, until 19 February, and His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 12-16 April. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until 12 February, and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 1-5 March.

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