EFR - Reviews of Bat Boy

Bat Boy

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Davina Moss

at 04:14 on 4th Aug 2012

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Not, as I had previously thought, the prequel to Batman, but a little-known late ‘90s musical, ‘Bat Boy’ follows the life of a strange creature - part bat, part man - as he struggles to be accepted by human society. Brought to life by Durham University’s Light Opera Group, this two-hour ramp ambitiously tackles eugenics, intolerance, incest and buried secrets in its strange, twisted world.

The play itself is a zany, honestly bizarre affair which borrows heavily from stories like ‘Edward Scissorhands’, of shunned outsiders fighting for normality, and had a hint of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ about the Bat Boy’s relationship with his persecutors. Several of the songs are toe-tapping enough, and the book offers the occasional funny line, but so much of this play is just ridiculously predictable, and as such the climactic ending in which a series of terrible secrets are revealed lacked significant punch. Despite the notable setback of a frankly poor play, the cast of DULOG threw themselves into the experience, with notable performances from Elissa Churchill as a wonderfully hammed Sheriff and Hannah Davenport as the heartbreaking Meredith, who takes the Bat Boy under her wing and nurtures him with the love she’s been unable to give her veterinarian husband for so long. Joe Leather took on the eponymous role, and successfully employed some impressive physicality in the earlier part of the play, but was handicapped in the latter half by the newly civilised Bat Boy’s basic lack of character. Indeed, talented folk unable to fully display said talent seemed to be a theme of the show. Many of the cast were strong singers, indeed some of the solos by Nat Goodwin send shivers down this reviewer’s spine, but tended to be drowned out by an overloud band, and some good and confident movers were caught out with feeble choreography.

There was much to be praised in this production, but equally much to be worked on. A simple staging choice of two ladders and the odd chair was used well, but at times the show seemed to lack the razzamatazz necessary to carry such a fundamentally ridiculous premise and a basically silly play. A more theatrical spectacle may well have improved the ‘Bat Boy’ experience considerably.

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Julia Chapman

at 09:53 on 4th Aug 2012

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'Bat Boy' is surely the most bizarre musical on offer at the Fringe. The immensely talented Durham University Light Opera Group somehow pulled it off, truly an incredible feat for a story so ludicrous.

Hannah Davenport maintained the show as Meredith Parker, a mother whose relationship with her veterinarian husband has become frosty over the years of their marriage. When a 'bat boy' is found in the local area, the creature is taken to the Parkers’ house for Dr Parker to euthanise. Meredith, however, becomes unusually taken to the boy, and decides to educate him instead. He soon becomes a bowtie-wearing intellectual, complete with Oxford English and impeccable manners.

Meredith’s relationship with the bat boy, whom she names Edgar, is at the centre of the story, and Davenport carried the show with her natural acting, winning voice and undeniably captivating stage presence. The scene in which Meredith teaches Edgar basic vocabulary, with its perpetual repetition of syllables ‘he’ and ‘lo’ was endlessly funny. Joe Leather, set the enormous task of playing Edgar, was extremely convincing in his less civilised state and was endearingly tender when singing along to Meredith’s voice in a hilarious yet touching melody.

'Bat Boy' takes place in a stereotypical small town in a generic southern state, beleaguered by myopia and prejudice, despite frequent claims of upholding the duties of Christian charity. The townspeople were appositely ridiculous, with a mayor in drag and a sexed-up sheriff, delightfully portrayed by Elissa Churchill.

The staging makes exceptional use of two ladders, around which the action consistently revolves. Colourful lighting choices rendered some scenes farcical, but on the whole the show was technically adroit. The soundtrack to 'Bat Boy' is unexpectedly catchy, with brilliant numbers like ‘Comfort and Joy’ contrasting with less convincing songs such as ‘Another Dead Cow’. Every song was expertly performed by a cast whose ensemble abilities are copious.

'Bat Boy' is an extremely unusual choice of musical, but the performance is a testament to DULOG, proving that talented performers can make anything compelling. The closing number of the show didactically throws a number of morals at the audience to be understood by the end of the two-hour production. Love your neighbour, forgive, and don’t raise cows on the side of a mountain, were the stand-out lessons to be learned. Moral questions were raised, such as ‘Does a beast have a soul?’ but the musical seems to take a fairly negative stance on cultivating savages. Inevitably the only moral that came through is that imposing civilisation on animals, no matter how good their grammar becomes, is ultimately futile.

It is important to note that enjoyment of Bat Boy comes largely from keeping an open mind. Uncertain of what to expect from such a dubious-sounding musical, my faith in DULOG nonetheless gave me high expectations and my disbelief was thus ready to be suspended regardless of the absurdity of the subject matter. Others less familiar with the work of DULOG may be less easily won over. But the Fringe demands experimentation and openness to new ideas. Leave your preconceived ideas at the door and allow yourself to be sucked in.

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