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Batman Live

By Alex Fitch on 24 August 2011

A couple of shots ring out in a dark alley in Gotham City. A wealthy couple fall to the floor, felled by the gun of an opportunist robber, leaving their only son, orphaned in the night… You know the rest.

Following the gritty, ‘real world’ approach of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films in recent years and the imminent conclusion of his approach to the franchise, casual fans of the Dark Knight Detective might be wondering where the live action franchise might go next.

The ‘Batman Live’ touring arena show isn’t necessarily the approach any filmmakers taking on the adventures of Gotham’s finest will take in years to come, but they are aware that younger viewers may have read the odd comic and seen various cartoon and video game adaptations and want some kind of related entertainment. As such, the stage managers of the show have come up with a reasonable compromise between the simplistic entertainment of Batman video games, the pop art spectacle of the 1960s TV show and Nolan’s more adult approach.

Although no comics were to be seen at any of the outlets selling merchandise around the MEN arena in Manchester where I caught the show (and I wouldn’t hold my breath to see any in London either – though depending on the rules governing the environs of the O2 centre, a canny comic shop could run a successful stall there this month) the production design does at least refer back to the characters’ four colour origins, with comic book art, panels and animation filling in the gaps between the narrative light scenes on stage.

With Nolan’s films neglecting Bruce Wayne’s sidekick and the last two Batfilms of the 20th century (thankfully) fading into distant memory, Batman Live focusses on Robin/Dick Grayson’s story as the main narrative arc, with Bruce and Commissioner Gordon’s witnessing of the Flying Graysons’ demise under the big top taking place near the start of the show and Dick’s journey to becoming Robin and wanting revenge continuing through both acts.

If this was a film, I would describe it as the 1966 Batman movie, remade by Francis Ford Coppola in the style of his little seen 1982 movie ‘One from the heart’, aptly described, much like ‘Batman Live’ as a musical where no-one bursts into song. The theatricality and artificiality of this production does resemble a musical, or more accurately a circus show – apt for a production partially set in a circus tent, but this informs the design throughout, including a Scarecrow who is also a stilt walker.

Following the seemingly cursed Spider-man musical on Broadway which seems to have sent as many people to hospital as it has on stage, perhaps superhero musicals are a doomed format anyway. Anyone remember Richard O’Brien’s other (excellent) musical ‘The Return of Captain Invincible’?

As a circus show that shoe-horns all of Batman’s most famous villains on stage – Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, Catwoman, Riddler, Harley Quinn – along with a breathless plot that just about gets the cast from one set piece to another, it’s not half bad. The production design is great, as is the sound design and stunt work. There’s not quite enough plot or content to entertain the adults in the audience, even the ones in a greying T-Shirt with the Batlogo on it, but bring a kid along and both child and child minder are likely to have a good time.

Memorable set pieces have stayed with me since seeing the show earlier in the summer – the Joker leaving the stage by hot air balloon, the guards of Arkham Asylum hanging off chains from the ceiling (a piece of stage design perhaps a little too adult for the intended audience) and the initial ballet of Gotham rooftops manoeuvred on and off stage by the crew.

Although not a ground-breaking piece of theatre, even for anyone expecting ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ with clowns and ray guns, ‘Batman Live’ is certainly diverting enough for families wanting a slice of super heroic entertainment that will entrance kids for a couple of hours during the dog days of the school holidays and beyond.

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By Alex Fitch

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  1. [...] Batman Live Release date: 24/08/11 (Theatre) [...]