Pros: A strong cast perform a host of catchy musical numbers.
Cons: The plot is chaotic and treats some particularly dark themes with an unconcerned and disturbing levity.
Bat Boy, The Musical is a strange and surreal spectacle. The show begins with the discovery of a half-human creature in a small town in West Virginia. The drama of the play hinges on the town folk’s response to the discovery; will they pity it and treat it with ‘Christian charity’, will they accept it as one of their own, or will they put it down like a stray dog? It is a bizarre and whimsical story which relies a bit too much on the audience being charmed by it’s quirkiness rather than the strength of the plot, characters or message. Nevertheless, the music is catchy and fun and the lyrics are witty. The cast perform the musical numbers impressively with energy and enthusiasm. The confident and well-choreographed singing is probably the strongest aspect of the production and turns the show into an energetic spectacle that – for the most part – is great fun to watch.
However, the play’s lighthearted and comedic tone is not so effective throughout. What begins as a bizarre and wacky story about the eponymous Bat Boy takes a darker turn in the second half as incest, murder, and rape all take to the stage. To me, this seemed very incongruous. Bat Boy is so clearly a comedy; a lighthearted musical, camp and unusual and a bit crazy. So why does it suddenly attempt to become a tragedy at the end of the second act? While I would argue that it isn’t impossible to treat serious or disturbing topics in a light or comedic way, this is a juxtaposition that has to be managed carefully to work. Combining light with dark can be shocking, poignant and very effective. But in the case of Bat Boy, I found the mix of comedy and tragedy clumsy and distasteful because the musical simply did not alter its approach. The production attempted to maintain it’s energy and wacky humour while the events of the storyline became darker and more disturbing. Near the end of the show, a character reveals that she has been raped, and the production treats her recounting of this ordeal as just another funny story, still trying to find comedic elements to laugh at. Instead of being wonderfully quirky, Bat Boy becomes manic and chaotic and the incongruous light-hearted tone left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable.
While I enjoyed myself for a large amount of the show, and while Southwark Playhouse is a welcoming and comfortable venue, I left feeling that Bat Boy didn’t live up to it’s potential. This production has some very strong elements; it is well choreographed, the music is great and there are some interesting staging choices. I liked the use of a large screen displaying videos and images as a backdrop to the stage, creating a versatile and visually interesting set. There are some very talented actors among the cast, and Rob Compton in particular should be commended for his nuanced and convincing portrayal of the near-human Bat Boy. But despite all this, the show felt like a chaotic spectacle without depth to support it. And the strange, twisted ending dampened my enjoyment of the silly story and fun songs.
Author: Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming
Director: Luke Fredericks
Producer: Paul Taylor-Mills & Morphic Graffiti
Booking Until: 31st January 2015
Box Office: 02074070234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/bat-boy-the-musical/
Choreographer: Joey McKneely
Musical Supervisor: Mark Crossland
Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe