This is what happens when I watch something amazing.
The first time I experience it, I am blown away. So I watch it a second time. I say ‘guys, guys, have you seen this thing?’ and I obsess a little. I google, I tweet, I find my online people and I obsess a lot more. I tell every person that I have ever met in my life and a lot of people I haven’t just how absolutely amazing this thing is and how oh my gosh, everyone should experience it for themselves. And then I get sad.
I get sad because how could I ever create something that powerful myself? I mean really, what’s even the point? It took even the great Jim Steinman himself 40 years to get his dream onstage. What chance do I have?
Then, if I’m very lucky, I manage to tell myself to just shut up already and quit whining. Because if you don’t try, how will you ever know?’
Easier said than done, but so it was with Bat Out of Hell The Musical.
Given my sudden burst of motivation and decision to screw it all and actually follow my dreams, I thought it appropriate that the my first post in two years (whut?) would be about the show that woke me out of my fatalistic stupor. Now, if there’s any musical that will wake you up, it will be Bat because, well quite frankly it’s very loud. It’s also mad as hell (excuse the pun.) You’ve got pyro, exploding motorbikes, live camera feeds, blood, confetti (the curse of Front of House staff everywhere) and THAT CAST. I could probably talk for hours about the talent of the band, stage crew, LX folk, wardrobe, dancers, the camerawoman who must have guns of steel by now, and every person and every department who helped to bring this insane show to the stage.
However, given this is a website dedicated to my writing, I should probably just stick to the story. And possibly a little bit of gushing about the cast because, well #fangirl.
Now the thing is, it’s a very classic story. That’s not to say that it isn’t gripping or imaginative, but when you take away the dystopian future, unhinged dictator (or ‘misunderstood’ depending on your Rob Fowler crush level) and mutant teenagers who never age, it’s simply a story about love. This is pretty fitting when you consider Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman to be the biggest hopeless romantics in rock.
I adore their albums. Their music is possibly the first I ever fell in love with, fascinated as I was by the vivid album covers in my dad’s music collection and the power in which Meat Loaf’s voice grips you from the first note. What separates the Bat Out Of Hell albums from all the other love songs out there is that they are so very real and mundane in the best sort of way. They are love stories without the sentimentality. There’s no unrealistic fairytale romance here. The women in these songs are fierce, unreasonable, understanding, vulnerable, confident, passionate. They are real women and Meat Loaf sings of how loving them can be hard and heartbreaking, but always worth it.
I think these songs did their part to shape me as a child when I sung away loudly while my dad worked or when I danced with my oldest friend making a chocolatey cake-y mess in the kitchen. They taught those little girls that there is no place for shyness in a relationship. Love is tough and confidence is sexy.
I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
This is what I love about the musical, too. The story follows Strat and Raven, two 18 year-olds (though one who has been that for a while now) falling in love in a Romeo & Juliet star-crossed lovers way. She’s trapped in her tower, he’s from the underworld and together they save each other from a lonely and unfulfilling life. This juxtaposes with Falco and Sloan, the parents of Raven who look at each other after 18 years and wonder who they both are after all this time, and whether or not they still have a life together.
It is this narrative (and the beautiful chemistry between Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler who play the couple) which keeps drawing me back. It is heartbreaking to watch the gradual implosion of a marriage while the couple witness their daughter falling in love for the first time. Sloane looks on with envy but with the determination that her daughter should achieve the life she never had, whereas Falco watches with fear, causing him to lock Raven away in a father’s overzealous protectiveness, desperate as he is for things to remain the way they were but merely pushing the two women in his life further away.
There is no doubt that this rings familiar to anyone who has been touched by divorce. When you have spent half your lives together, do you know who you are? Do you like the person you have become? The person your partner has become? Can love last a lifetime? One of my biggest fears is losing myself when drowned in a relationship that is bigger than the both of you so I watch eagerly as the actors play their roles with equal parts humour and heartbreak with the songs “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “What Part Of My Body Hurts The Most?” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” Each one blows you away with the raw emotion of the talented pair, not to mention some kickass staging.
So is it possible to spend your life with another person, to still love them, and yourself, after all the heartbreak? Well you’ll just have to watch it for yourself, but in Jim Steinman songs, love is not just for the young, it’s just easier.
It is not just the leads that benefit from this character-driven script. The whole cast have repeatedly spoken about how they were involved in helping to create the characters they would play onstage. They added their own backstories, relationships, depth and detail. There is no generic “ensemble” under head shots in the programme; each and every character has a name, their own unique costume and motivation. It is this extra detail that paralyses you as an audience member with the sheer amount of stuff happening on the London Coliseum stage. You could watch the show a hundred times and always see something new, purely because of the silent stories the ensemble act out between each other. Just watch this clip with actors Georgia Carling and Patrick Sullivan talk about how they have made a throwaway prop so meaningful, and a little morbid. Maybe it’s a little bit of fun, but I can’t think of many musicals out there that allow their actors such freedom.
And you know what, when I watched the show again after seeing that YouTube video, I noticed the desperate way Valkyrie (Georgia) threw herself into Blake’s (Patrick) arms after “Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” and I choked up a little bit. There is so much to this production and so much character.
Bat has helped remind me that your characters lead the story, not the other way around, and it has taught me that you don’t need to create Inception to write something special, it can be as classic as Romeo & Juliet, or Peter Pan and be a hundred times more meaningful. I am very grateful for this show, and for being the catalyst that led me to pick up my fountain pen again.
Go see this show while you can guys. It finishes on Tuesday 22 August before it heads to Toronto. If the above hasn’t convinced you of its worth, simply know that every time I walk in the auditorium doors, I walk out happy.