The Southwark Playhouse was on to quite the winning streak last year with acclaimed productions such as Dogfight and In The Heights, so much so that there is a certain level of polished professionalism one has come to associate with the venue. 2015 kicks into gear with a revival of cult hit Bat Boy; does it live up to the perhaps unattainabley high standard set for it? No. Is it enjoyable anyway? Sure.
First off, Bat Boy is ridiculous. The show is a strange mash-up between an 80’s coming of age movie, a rock opera and a comic book. If you are feeling the quirky cartoonish vibe, then there is a good chance there is something in this production for you.
The most impressive element to this production is some of the cast that Paul Taylor-Mills LTD and Morphic Graffiti have pulled in. The show features Lauren Ward, aka THE ORIGINAL Miss Honey from Matilda the Musical, yeah that’s right, the Tony Award nominated Miss Honey right here in the teeny tiny Southwark Playhouse. Genuine score.
Ward remains the true star she has always been, bringing authenticity to the production and her role as concerned mother, Meridith Parker. Her vocals soar, her comedy tickles. She is great. Similarly, Matthew White was excellently cast as her Small Town American husband, Dr Parker. Off stage, White is a pretty huge director (Top Hat, Little Shop of Horrors etc) and it is deeply interesting to see his connection with performance onstage.
Rob Compton made a very impressive Bat Boy, for which he delivered a highly physical performance (yep, HELLO muscles!) with skill and determination. Alongside him Georgina Hagen pulled of a syrupy but engaging Shelley Parker.
The ensemble worked together as a tight knit unit, but some all big cast musical numbers wanged on a little longer than I had the patience for. All, however, was forgiven during Act II opener “A Joyful Noise” which was the fun start to the act I needed, plus I LOVED Reverand Hightower’s yellow suit (portrayed by Simon Bailey.)
Despite being just over 2hrs and 15 minutes long, parts of the first Act dragged for me. Other than “Hold Me Bat Boy,” I wasn’t too drawn in by the music. Luckily Act 2 had a few more engaging numbers such as the aforementioned “A Joyful Noise” and “Three Bedroom House,” which provided some of the stand out moments in the show as a whole.
The sound overall was a little loud and abrasive at times, but I imagine these are the perils of performing with true gusto in a small space.
Aside from the wigs, one of the most confusing aspects of the show is its setting. As I mentioned above, I kind of got an 80’s vibe from the piece but then there were mobile phones and THEN it all got a bit 50’s highschool prom. It seems like the design team had worked hard at some sort of aesthetic, but I am not exactly sure what that was?
The stage design was all very comic book, however in terms of costume this at times boardered on the cheap looking. The wigs were distractly atrotious . I am sorry, but they were. It seems like a lot of the budget went into the projections, which in fairness helped build spaces that the Southwark Playhouse stage could not have accomodated.
Paul Taylor Mills, director Luke Fredericks and choreographer Joey McKneely have done what they can to what is effectively the B Movie of the musical realm. I am sure noone would argue that the plot is thin (and essentially hinders on one big fat rape joke) and the tone is ridiculous but don’t we all need just a little bit of fun in January? I think so!
Bat Boy runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 31st January 2015.