Batman Live Review

Vile Villains Face Off

Anthony Van Laast, whose previous credits include Mamma Mia and Sister Act, flew in his much debated and highly anticipated adrenaline ride, Batman Live. I headed up to sightsee Gotham City first hand in Sheffield (Motorpoint Arena) for the first of seven shows in the city, spanning over a tour of 55 dates in the UK before heading overseas to take on Europe.
 
The £12 million Dark Knight stage spectacular (“It takes over 17 trucks to move the show from arena to arena”) has had its ups and downs of media coverage since its UK debut last month in Manchester, but that didn’t stop the hordes of bat crazy fans lining up to catch the DC Comics super star in action. The arena was packed with Batman themed cosplayer’s, looking like Sheffield’s very own Arkham Asylum, with miniature Batmen to middle aged Jokers (hats off to the toddler suited up like Spider-Man… brave). The show targeted every generation of Batman lover alike.
 
Whilst the costumed kids were striking karate poses and battling invisible villains, it was the mums and dads who scoured the merchandise stands in a frenzy of eager excitement. Among the bat-cave of goodies, you could bag yourself an array of comic style T-shirts, tour posters and… capes (of course, I couldn’t resist).
 
The arena hall was accompanied by an orchestra of screaming sirens, gunshots and public unrest. The misty stage area was low lit and oozed a linger of Tim Burton (Batman Returns, 1992). A 3D model of Gotham City landmarks rose above the stage, backed by a marvellous 100ft plus illuminating Bat shaped screen, depicting the sunset of an uneasy and disrupted dystopia. Comic fans rejoiced and sat impatiently waiting for the show to ignite. “WOW! Just look at that!” voiced one chap taking photos of the set beside me.
 

Hot Air Joker

Ladies and Gentleman.” The room submitted to darkness, a blinding light exploded from the hand-made city, “This is Batman Live!” As the room cheered, the claps were drowned out by the sound of ambient suspicious (criminal) activities and a Danny Elfman style score that rattles the arena. Instantly enthralled, the show began.

It quickly became clear that the show was going to be specifically catered to young boys and fans of Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin, 1997). Yes… Joel does have some fans. Anyone seeking some Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) relief, cancel your tickets now because this was a homage to the camp and colourful world of Batman seen in the eighties, and reminiscent of Tim Burton’s fish-eye interpretation, and it sort of works.

The ambitious showcase returned to the origins of Batman, presenting us with the back story of his transformation, from the history of Robin to an exploration of the criminal underworld. Although I expected a little more than a, “Let’s kill The Batman” plot line, it did play loyal to the villains we know and love. Without giving too much away, the underwhelming story was made up for with the phenomenal stage craft and visuals (think Michael Bay… on stage). Perfectly timed on the ball stunts became the accompaniment of a brilliantly narrated graphic novel style guide projected on the giant Bat-screen (which soon became the highlight of the show).

The cast were hand-picked in UK open audition’s held back in January 2011, and over 2000 people auditioned for a part. The hat’s go off to Commissioner Gordon and The Penguin for their acting talents amongst an ensemble of rather…. let’s say non convincing actors, of whom were obviously identifiable as primarily acrobats and circus performers.

Batman appeared first on stage with a muscle busting film style suit. “I need that suit,” I unconsciously blurted. The suit is laced with a shade of grey that represented the Jim Lee (Batman Artist) imagining. Gliding, holding the iconic entrance pose onto the stage to face the Cat woman (obviously a Michelle Pfeiffer inspired Cat Woman) mid robbery, the crowd erupted. The scene ended with a very anti-climatic fight that lacked the impact the audience craved. The stage combat was of mixed choreography, and felt more energetic when Robin was handing out the bad-guy beatings. However the interval did see hundreds of mini Batmen copying the Caped Crusader across the floor space.

Bat Mobile

I was surprised to learn that the director decided to re-invent Uncle Alfred as Batman’s trainer (not… Henri Ducard?… urm… okay), which was a bit of a “What?” moment across the auditorium for die-hard fans. This was followed by a rather awkward display of uneducated Thai Chi from the beloved butler.

It’s safe to say that the show relies on the stunning scenery and ferocious pyrotechnics, and is undoubtedly a visual wonder. Boba Fett style jet packs, harrowing Joker busts, bazooka’s and the incredibly designed Bat Mobile (crafted by Formula One) all add to the fantastic mise en scene the show has to offer.

The villains were a group of familiar favourites and usual faces. The Joker was the ring leader leading the vile villainy, which included, Scarecrow, Two-Face, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler and his loony love interest Harley Quinn. The Joker received the most stage time, and as the most anticipated character, he managed to pull off a rather impressive imitation of a very DC “The Killing Joke” influenced Joker. The conversations between himself and the chaotic caffeine crazy Harley Quinn were witty and amusing. I was disappointed at the very short presence of other characters. It seemed irrelevant to the story to actually include some of them, as they offered very little but reference. As excited as I was to see the villains brought to life in excellent costumes, Scarecrow appeared to wobble onto stage like an inflatable ad-waving tube doll (Cillian Murphy need not worry).

The biggest cheer came when Bruce Wayne announced, “I Am Batman,” to a naïve young Dick Grayson (Robin). Almost in synchronisation, a man fronting full Batman fan attire in the audience yelled, “Hell Yeah,” and the alarmed audience followed. Milked in cliché standards, we were suckered in to cheer again for a second time.

The end of Batman ?

When stripped to the bones, Batman Live is essentially an excellently dressed circus performance; a spectacle assured to raise Joker like smiles across the faces of children and families. It’s a trapeze tailored magic show disguised in Batman fancy dress. Without a doubt, an incredible visual and stylised production suitable for all fans. Is it for Die-Hard comic book fans? I don’t think so. But that isn’t to say you won’t enjoy the evening.

If you’re looking for strong acting, a riveting story and intense dialogue, then Batman Live is the wrong show. If you’re after a night of great entertainment and style, then there is nothing better.

 

To catch the show, and find out for yourself, you can book tickets for all remaining shows via the Official Website. Tickets range from £20 standard seats to £45 Gotham City seats (which offer a front line view beside the stage).

If you have already seen the show! Please let us know what you thought about it in the section below!

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2 Comments

  1. s7acker says:

    Strange decision to include the loveable old scruff Uncle ALBERT from Only Fools and Horses in the production! I’m surprised that they felt the need to replace Uncle ALFRED 😉

  2. Liam Swann Liam Swann says:

    That’s due to the bloody spell-checker! Thanks for pointing it out! It will be changed!

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