By Ian Soutar
WOW. This is one spectacular show.
As soon as you enter the auditorium and see the Gotham City night vista all lit up and spread out across the stage, you sense you are in for something special.
It soon gives way to the giant 100ft-wide, bat-shaped LED video wall that moves the action from scene to scene by flicking over one vast computer animated comic book page after another and seamlessly bleeding into what’s on stage. What you think is an image of the long table at Wayne Towers proves to be three-dimensional when Robin jumps on it.
But amid all the state-of-the art effects there is also a lot of good old-fashioned stage business with tumbling acrobatics, people on flying trapezes, magic routines and a slightly cumbersome martial arts battle. Even then, you’re impressed by the sheer scale of all this with an army of 40 circus performers swarming the stage.
And. of course, proper actors (those in the know spotted John Conroy from the Crucible’s Me and My Girl as the butler, Alfred Pennyworth) delivering dialogue, some of it quite witty if you pause to listen, especially The Penguin, a wisecracking impresario. The audience engage with the interaction between the characters, cheering when Bruce Wayne (Nick Court) declares “I am Batman!” and wolf whistling at his smouldering clinch with the sexy Catwoman.
Telling the story of how Bruce and his young ward, Dick Grayson, came to be Batman and Robin makes for a dark and edgy opening (two lots of double murders) which some of the youngsters in the audience clearly found pretty scary, along with later scenes in Arkham Asylum and the appearance of an extremely sinister Scarecrow on stilts.
But then things like the Batmobile, designed by Formula 1’s Gordon Murray, with illuminated ‘spokes’ of the ‘virtual wheels’ and carbon-ceramic afterburner, more than made up for it.
From his jack-in-a-box entrance, The Joker (Mark Frost) almost steals the show. At one point manifesting as a 25ft Joker head whose hair, eyes and teeth are gradually revealed as squirming acrobats, he is the master of ceremonies among the roster of villains – the Penguin, the Riddler, the Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, Two Face and Poison Ivy. Even the fact that his spectacular departure in smoke and flames was momentarily delayed by a technical hitch on opening night didn’t seem to spoil the audience’s enjoyment and excitement which speaks volumes in itself.
This £7.5m production is what arenas are for.