‘Batman LIVE!’ these are two words I thought I would never speak together in the same sentence but after the announcement of this summer’s arena tour they’ve now been uttered ten times over.
Essentially ‘Batman Live’ – due to open in London 24th August – is a mash up of Adam West sensibility with comic book iconography and Arkham Asylum (the wildly successful game incarnation) storytelling and tells the story of Dick Grayson’s rise to become Robin.
I witnessed the spectacle from the second row of Gotham City in the Glasgow SECC arena. I should point out the show did not feature the Bat-shaped screen on this night for reasons unknown. Honestly I think it wouldn’t have fitted in the room.
It was a sold out show and ages easily ranged from 5-65, which only added to the level of excitement pre-show.
Let’s start with the ‘Gotham City’ seating: I genuinely felt fully immersed in the show itself, particularly during the circus scenes. It was great that the performers came down from the stage to interact with members of the crowd in the front rows, particularly for the younger audience members. There are other aspects of interaction that I don’t want to spoil but there was very little doubt that it was worth paying extra for these seats although I would warn parents with small children that although the stage is low the littlest amongst us might have trouble seeing the stage.What little doubt I had about our seats came from the view. There are pros here but also a couple of cons: sitting on the arena floor, barely ten feet from the stage provided an outstanding view of the actors and also the costumes which are very intricately designed and detailed far beyond what is expected for a show where 75% of the audience will be unable to appreciate it. I do question using a Nightwing logo on Robin’s utility belt though!
Eagle eyed fans will notice both Batman and Robin’s costumes have changed from the original media launch, I think you will agree these changes are for the better.
The downside to ‘Gotham’ seats: the potential for neck ache. Our seats were to the right when looking out from the stage and whilst the bulk of the action was central to the gangway and the actors made an effort to act to all sides there was no way to see both actors and the big screen at all times.
Although not a major issue as there was time to soak up the amazing visuals on screen without losing track of the action it meant that the full atmosphere of the show was not always easy to grasp. I found it most troublesome during a scene in which Dick sits at the Wayne dining table where without a perfect view of the stage all perspective would be lost.
I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism thrown at this show for not being a Nolan-esque or a Miller-esque vision of Batman and although you can’t deny how amazing either would be if done correctly at the end of the day this is a family show and a family show was exactly what we got.
I failed to notice anybody looking unimpressed after the show as hoards descended upon the reasonably priced merchandise stands and took photos with the cardboard cutouts of Batman placed around the venue.
The story does veer from canon in terms of the origin of both Batman and Robin but does so in a way that is logical in terms of not overcomplicating the show. I won’t ruin the moment but any member of the Facebook group will be aware of the perhaps one of the most unnecessary scenes in the show. I can say that as a dedicated reader of the comics and an avid Bat-historian I digested the changes in backstory, appreciated the reasons for them and moved on without it tainting my experience of the overall show.
Aside from this blip the story is in fact quite heavily character driven in the first half before shifting the balance towards action after the interval. I did find my interest levels wavering somewhat towards the end of the first half but I put this down to anticipation for the action and not to a flawed script. On reflection there’s a huge amount to take in during the two hours this show runs for which could easily warrant returning for further viewings.
The dialogue is easy on the ears and delivered in short bursts, very comic book in style. You can almost envisage the speech bubbles over the characters heads as they talk and it all works perfectly in the context of the show. The writers have done a good job of giving each of the characters their moments to shine and the respective actors work well with the material with my highest praise going to Harley Quinn and Joker.
A lot of the characters appear tied to particular environments for most of the show such as Penguin appearing almost solely in the Iceberg Lounge and Joker in the circus before it’s all tied together in Arkham for the closing moments of the show. It’s characters like Catwoman and Riddler who claim a lot more freedom over the Gotham environments depicted here.
Seeing all the villains together on the stage does evoke feelings of the old Adam West Batman movie, all that’s missing is giant bomb and a couple of nuns.
Leaving the arena there’s no doubt that this is Joker’s show, he has easily the most dialogue and some of the longest scenes in the show. He’s also given the widest variety of vehicles and special effects of all the characters. Mark Frost carries the part well and alongside Poppy Tierney the onscreen relationship of the characters from BTAS is recreated admirably. In the same vein as viral marketing for The Dark Knight the marketing team behind ‘Batman Live ‘should be putting out artwork altered to say ‘Joker Live’.
The weak link in the cast is sadly Poison Ivy, although pictured in most of the promotional material for the show her character is only on stage for a matter of seconds and her dialogue dubbed by a different actress and because of this her scene sticks out in my memory for reasons that it shouldn’t. There’s no visible reason as to why her voice would be dubbed although the programme does detail what appears to be a Russian background for the actress.
Emma Clifford as Catwoman (and also Martha Wayne) also deserves a honourable mention for a clearly well researched performance, there’s little of Hale Berry and a lot of BTAS in her performance. The Costume design is near perfect to the comics and will appease those fans currently disgruntled by Anne Hathaway’s apparent costume in The Dark Knight Rises.
Nick Court has also fallen victim to what I believe is unfair criticism. He wears the suit with a modicum of authority and doesn’t shy away from an audience who can each describe in graphic detail their favourite Batman. A lesser actor could definitely crumble under the pressure of wearing the cowl, physically and metaphorically. He interacts well with all the other actors although I felt the relationships he has with Alfred and Dick could have been fleshed out further, particularly the latter as this show follows the inception of Robin.
On that note I also find it a little odd that for a show which follows the path of Dick Grayson from the circus to the Batcave very little has been written about Kamran Darabi-Ford and Michael Pickering who share the role equally. It was hard to tell which were on the stage or if the show was split between one as Dick and the other as Robin but whoever was on that stage brought a youthful vigour to the role which was perhaps lacking in his previous film appearances.
As I have already mentioned we were not privy to the full stage set on this night but missing bat-shaped screen aside the stage lived up to all expectations and is as much as character in the show as any of the actors on stage. With moveable Gotham landmarks (which I spent much of the pre-show pointing out and naming) and adaptive decorations it provided almost as much to the atmosphere of Gotham City as the comic inspired (and partly Jim Lee created) background work.
The wirework is impressive although relatively safe but then as I have previously said: this is a family show. I’m sure if this were a more adult show the stunt work would be more precarious. I was particularly impressed by the Flying Grayson’s performance, which really hit home the feeling that we were at the circus and once Joker and his goons appeared to take over the joint I think I was actually overcome with fear for a moment.
I couldn’t write a review of the show without discussing the Batmobile, somewhat controversial in design I know that some people have not been pleased with the outcome but I can tell you that once you’ve seen the machine in action you will be nothing short of amazed. The car is first introduced to us in the Batcave (which features a seriously impressive control panel which I spent a good portion of the scene trying to photograph) but then reappears later to introduce us to a computerised car chase around the city. After crashing on to the stage from behind the screen there was brief moment where it spun into a 180 degree turn almost throwing Batman and Robin from the stage.
I will finish up with a quick bit on the merchandise. I’ve seen fans online complaining about the prices of the merch but I have to say having been to a fair few concerts and shows in my time the ‘Batman Live’ merch was very fairly priced, particularly the programme which has been taken a lot of flack for being priced at £15 but it is completely worth it and beautifully designed.
There are the usual t-shirts (for all the family), mugs, keyrings, and badges but there are also Bat masks and capes. I suggest you get to the stand before the show starts as there are only limited stocks and from what I saw the t-shirts went very quickly. All is nicely designed and there’s something to please all the Bat fans.
If you already have tickets then enjoy the show and if you don’t have tickets – I suggest you get on to Ticketmaster now and checkout the next showing you can before it heads off to Europe and then the rest of the world as who knows when it will return. Ignore those who chose to write this show off as nonsense, it’s true that this will never please anybody but there is no need to write this off as a failure purely because it very successfully executes a story for all ages. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had on a Batman Live night and I couldn’t recommend it more.