Arena, 18 September 2011.
quite ironic that while the Spider-Man Broadway
show stumbles from disaster to disaster, Batman Live
seems to have been developed without a hitch, touring arenas across
the world doing much the same sort if thing (but without the songs,
thank God). It’s also rather ironic that, several months
after scoffing at the very concept if this show, I found myself
sitting in Nottingham Arena watching the damn thing. But never
let it be said that I’m close-minded, and so while I approached
this with a degree of cynicism, I was prepared to be proven wrong.
And to a certain extent, I was. This theatrical extravaganza is
not at all terrible. In fact, it’s a pretty entertaining,
if ultimately empty two hours of cutting-edge technology and good,
old-fashioned circus performance.
Taking place on a stage that juts out into the centre of the arena,
with a huge video screen at the back providing sets, animation
and linking footage, the story pretty much tries to cram as much
Batman mythology as it can into the show. Opening with the death
of Bruce Wayne’s parents, it then jumps ahead to a world
where Batman already exists, and young Dick Grayson is about to
see his parents killed – though not before they’ve
performed extensive trapeze stunts. Convinced by Commissioner
Gordon to take the boy in, Bruce Wayne is soon called away to
tackle Catwoman, while young Dick sneaks out to track down his
parents’ killer, only to come face-to-face with the Joker.
Before long, Wayne has revealed who he really is, Grayson is on
the road to becoming Robin and the Joker has taken over Arkham
Asylum, which houses Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Two-Face,
The Riddler, Catwoman, The Penguin and assorted other lunatics.
This could be a cluttered mess, but if taken as a series of set
pieces with a loosely connecting story, it works quite well. I
do think that, if I were a Batman-obsessed child (as a large part
of the audience seemed to be), I’d probably be frustrated
that Batman takes so long to make his first appearance –
it’s about thirty minutes in – and then is rarely
seen in the first half. The circus stuff is impressive enough,
but no one here has actually paid to attend a circus, after all.
Of course, the teased hints have the effect of building expectations
– every time a bat signal or symbol appeared, a kid at the
back excitedly cried out “it’s Batman!”,
and our hero’s entrance is suitably dramatic. Unfortunately,
his first battle with Catwoman is quite lacklustre, seemingly
more about spectacular wire-work that seemed less impressive that
it might have, simply because it gave the impression that Batman
In fact, the fight scenes are the weakest part of the show –
of course, you don’t expect realistic punch-ups, but the
slow, telegraphed and clearly none-connecting punches could’ve
been handled more effectively – perhaps the show needed
some professional wrestlers to show how the make fake fighting
look good. On the plus side, the scenes inside Arkham Asylum are
impressively creepy, the slick Batmobile drew gasps of excitement
from the crowd and the story builds nicely to a satisfying finale.
Although Batman's costume is clearly inspired by the current cinematic
versions, the show as a whole is more a mix of the Sixties TV
show (without the camp) and the comic books, creating a less dark,
more family-friendly event. The Joker was greeted with boos when
he appeared, while the debut of Robin drew bigger cheers than
even Batman – possibly because, in many ways, this is his
story. On the whole, the costumes are spot on - the one exception
being Catwoman, who looked more like a 1940s motorcyclist than
a seductive super villain – and I certainly can’t
fault the look of the show. It’s unquestionably a technical
marvel, and the mix of drama, action, acrobatics, magic tricks
and dance manages to work better than you would expect.
To produce a show that would appeal to every generation of Batman
fans was a difficult task, but I have to say that on the whole,
Batman Live does it well. Certainly, the audience
I saw it with were hugely enthusiastic, and clearly had a great
time. So I’m happy to eat my words and say that if this
show turns up in your locality, it’s well worth making the
effort to see it.