So we were lucky enough to get some tickets for the first ever full performance of Batman Live. But what the christ is Batman Live. I will avoid spoilers without some kind of warning or spoiler text.Â Like this
Batman is gay
Ah yes. A live action performance of Batman. We didn’t have a clue what to expect to be quite honest. Would it be of the levels of Spider-man The Musical which has been dogged with problems ever since it was launched, or would it be something different.
From reading previews I saw it was billed as more Adam Wests Batman than Christian Bales, with a more fun than serious storyline. The show was not a musical, more a live action performance. The show we were seeing was billed as the first full dress rehearsal and before the show out on stage came Anthony Van Laast and James Powell, the co-directors, who warned that if anything went particularly wrong then they may have to stop the show and run through things. Uh oh.
The stage itself, well when we first saw it we didn’t know what to think.
Those tiny buildings, theyre about man size.We sat there wondering how the hell this would work, it looked quite frankly ridiculous. However as the show started it did kind of work well. The buildings were moved as needed, dropping down into the stage or being swiftly moved into the back stage arena. When there were buildings and people on stage they were treated with in a decent way – for instance the Waynes being stood out front of the cinema to represent them having just come out of a screening of Zoro, or later in the show Harley Quinn being sat on top of a replica of Arkham Asylum. While initially thinking the sets were ridiculous they actually worked quite well. Some of the later sets were also great, one highlight being a Jokers Head that was made up of henchman – its difficult to describe but when you see it you’ll love it.
The screen at the back is massive and bat shaped, and gives the different settings some depth. Between scenes it can also flick through comic book pages to show time flicking by. Its used really well at times, with some of my favourite parts being showing the descent into the batcave, or the part where a picture of someone on stage is taken by a photographer, and the “picture” flashes up on-screen in a comic book panel. Theres also a good part where Wayne details some backstory, as the screen flashes up animated versions of the events hes recalling.
The show itself is clearly geared more towards the more fun aspects of Batman. The basic non spoiler version is that its the story of Batman and Robin getting together. It starts with a brief part which shows why Batman became Batman, before skipping forward to Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon at a visit to the circus, where the flying Graysons are performing. Anyone who knows Robins back story can guess what happens there, and this develops the story into a full Batman vs Supervillans story. If you want more spoilers I’ll detail the full story at the end within spoiler tags.
Parts like the circus scene allow the show to take a side turn, with the action on stage in this part being all about some high flying trapeze stunts. The show does this at other points, with one later scene developing into a series of magicÂ tricks. While it is undoubtably impressive to see these kind of stunts, it does to me at least, take away from the storyline that was developing.
He pretty much straight up tells Dick Grayson that he’s Batman for the sole reason of getting him to stay at Wayne Manor. I think even the audience were shocked at this, because it took everyone a while to react to the “I am Batman” line
One real weak point for me was the fighting. Maybe this was partly because it was the first full dress rehearsal, but the fighting was terrible at times. It looked very awkward and clunky, sound effects didn’t match the action on stage and Batman in particular looked like his costume was making his movements more restricted. Perhaps one of the weakest scenes for me was Batman and Catwoman first meeting. This scene utilised the miniature building sets shown earlier, as Batman and Catwoman fought between buildings jumping from one to the other as they battled. However the movements were clunky, and their fighting looked like they were barely even trying to tickle each other. A later battle where a series of henchman battled Batman and Robin came off as much better, mainly as Robins movements in his costume seemed much smoother
The villans are given almost no back story at all, but I suppose that’s something you can expect when they pack so many characters in. You have The Joker, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, The Riddler, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Twoface and The Scarecrow. I cant help but feel this was a mistake, as aside from Catwoman and the Joker-Harley duo, none of the other enemies get time to develop. Infact Scarecrow and Ivy show up very late in the show, and for a combined time of about three minutes before disappearing. Of the others Two Face gets a few laughs with some fun arguing amongst his two personalities when he first shows up, Riddler gets out a master plan before being pushed to the side, and Penguin gets a big entrance that gets boring quickly.
Of the people on stage, well the undoubtable star is the Joker. He and Harley Quinn get the best lines, and the best scenes. It isnt a Heath Ledger style Joker, its definitely edging more towards a Jack Nicholson style. He makes a great entrance to the stage too. Robin was a bit too over enthusiastic for me, though I suppose many Batman fans felt the same way when he was introduced to the comic. Batman, well Ive already mentioned his costume looking clunky, but he also seemed to be out of breath after any scene that required him to move. May want to rethink that design a little I think.
Despite me coming off as a little negative in the last few paragraphs I would say its a great night out. For a night out for the family I would say its great fun and a good night out. The little kids around, many of them in Batman costumes seemed to love it, and we definitely enjoyed ourselves too.
Batman Live premieres in Manchester from Tuesday 19th July before touring the UK and Europe, then jumping across the pond to open in North America in August 2012. Tickets are on sale now.