Gary Collinson reviews Batman Live from the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle...
Chances are that if you’ve seen any of the publicity material from Batman Live, you’ve probably already formed a good idea of what to expect from the big-budget arena show that kicked off its world-wide run a couple of weeks back in Manchester. Yes, it’s a kid-friendly interpretation of the Dark Knight with bright, cheesy-looking costumes and a Batsuit that’s a couple of nipples short of a Joel Schumacher. And yes, it is an origin story… of Robin, the Boy Wonder. However, moving beyond that, it’s also an astounding show and a true spectacle that’s guaranteed to entertain Batman fans of all ages (unless you go in expecting an advance screening of The Dark Knight Rises, in which case you deserve to be disappointed).
I’ve read quite a few reviews comparing the style and tone of Batman Live to that of the old Adam West TV series and the absolutely atrocious Batman & Robin, but I wouldn’t say either of those are a fair description of the show. Whilst the story is kept simple, it’s played entirely straight with plenty of dramatic moments and it never really strays into the campy territory of those incarnations. Some parts of Batman Live are actually pretty dark and if I had to compare it to any of the movies it would be Batman Forever. In fact, a few moments are lifted directly from Schumacher’s first effort, which isn’t all that surprising given the storyline on offer.
The show kicks off by recreating the night that gave birth to the Batman, with a young Bruce Wayne vowing to devote his life to fighting crime after a robber takes the lives of his parents. From here we’re transported to Haley’s Circus, where the mobster Tony Zucco sabotages a performance of the Flying Graysons, causing Dick Grayson to embark on a similar path to Caped Crusader in his quest for vengeance against Zucco’s boss, the Joker. Meanwhile the members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery – Catwoman, Two-Face, the Penguin and the Riddler – all agree to join forces against the Dark Knight, leading to an explosive showdown within the nightmarish confines of Arkham Asylum.
As I’ve said, the story in Batman Live is pretty standard and the script itself isn’t much to write home about, but it’s really nothing more than an excuse to go from one set-piece to another and that’s where the show really excels. There’s a good amount of variety in the action with high-flying wire-work, expertly-choreographed fight sequences and dazzling pyrotechnics, not to mention a great magic trick from the Joker (not that kind of magic trick). The production design is also very strong (especially Arkham Asylum) and makes excellent use of a huge, bat-shaped video screen that simultaneously expands the scenery and takes us from one scene to the next with some fantastic comic book-inspired visuals.
Of course, Batman Live isn’t without its faults and the main one for me was the uninspired performance from Nick Court in the Batsuit. Perhaps it was the restrictive costume, or maybe the actor was just having an off-night, but it says something when Robin overshadows the Caped Crusader in a Batman production. Fortunately the rest of the cast were all admirable, especially Poppy Tierney as Harley Quinn, who stole the show from the Joker and was easily the best of the bad guys, and while Poison Ivy, Two-Face, the Riddler and the Scarecrow didn’t have all that much to do, the latter was certainly a standout in his brief but memorable appearance.
Overall, Batman Live delivers a thoroughly entertaining show and if you’re a fan of the Caped Crusader, I’d heartily recommend checking it out at the earliest opportunity. Kids are sure to love it, and unless you really can’t stand the Boy Wonder, I’m sure there’ll be plenty for you too.
Holy Franchise, Batman! - Coming 2012.