Batman Live: A Review

Herein lies a quick review of the Batman Live stage show. In it, are one or two non-storyline points that some may consider ‘spoilers’ and also a few pictures (and video, if I can get it to work) that are taken on a very poor camera phone, so apologies in advance to any irritation!

We’ll start off by showing you the TV advert, so you have a general idea of what this is about.

Now… Tonight, myself, my girlfriend and neighbour all journeyed to Manchester to see Batman Live. The tickets were rather pricey, but as a long-term fan, it seemed like a small price to pay for the spectacle. Of the two girls I was with; my girlfriend Rebecca was not a huge fan, but knew a fair bit from hearing me prattling on, and our friend Genevra was probably mostly aware of the Batman mythos from the recent films, but not overly involved in the character as a comic book hero. Admittedly, our enjoyment of the event probably lessened in that order, which can be seen two ways… Either that non-bat fans may not enjoy it as much, or that serious bat-fans will enjoy it a lot more.

Now, speaking as a fan of the entire ‘bat-universe’, my thoughts are simple… Brilliant.

In retrospect, the girls had certain views and ideals that were not met, but luckily I knew exactly what I was going to see. If you want a Christopher Nolan-esque battle of grunge and murder, or a special effects laden peek into the real world of superheroes… You won’t be pleased. Superheroes are not real, and any attempts to make them more believable, seem to make them less believable. If you want to see a bunch of incredible acrobats and actors, dressed up in cool costumes, spouting out puns and cliches, firing bazookas and causing mayhem, hot air balloons and batmobiles, circus acts and magic tricks and not to mention (as seems to often be the case with such an amazing character), a brilliant portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, then my recommendations lie with this performance.

As you see, the stage alone is a spectacle. The giant screen at the back, which interacts incredibly with the entire show, lights up Gotham City, and the stage itself is littered with large modals of many of the famous Gotham City locations, from Harvey Dent’s courthouse to Catwoman’s art museum, The Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge and of course, Wayne Tower at the heart. The buildings are removed from the stage to pop back from beneath the floorboards to highlight that particular building’s role in the current scene (or to allow Batman and Catwoman to literally chase each other across the rooftops). An invisible door in the centre of the screen allows characters to actually walk out onto the stage from the grand comic locations like Haley’s Circus and Arkham Asylum. Even the predominately non-bat fan among us was unable to point fault with the incredible production design of the show.

Of course, we had The Batmobile. Between its formula one design, its sonar navigation and its flare rockets, it was a fair treat. It wasn’t a design that most bat-fans would relate to, but it wasn’t without its charm. One poor aspect was seeing the wondrous Batmobile jetting out into the bottom of the screen, at which point the visuals take over, and the screen displays a slightly long, slightly awkward, and not particularly state-of-the-art CGI video of the car speeding to a confrontation at Arkham Asylum.

To go with the car, we had Bruce’s Bentley, The Joker’s Clown Car, and of course one other interesting contraption that met an unfortunate end… Thanks, in no small part, to Harley Quinn, as you see below!

The Joker was arguably the most accurate portrayal I have ever seen. We all enjoyed Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but this wasn’t that Joker. This was the real one. A Jim Lee designed version of the madman, happy to sacrifice his ‘precious’ Harley to test out his death traps, somewhat un-amused to see her survive, was perfectly cast and perfectly performed. He was a delight to watch, and in no way tried anything too tacky like talking to the audience (my biggest dread. It’s never okay. It’s just too panto-ish). He was both menacing and funny, alluring and scary.

The rest of the host of villains, and they were really all there, were also quite wonderful. Two-Face was a favourite of mine, swirling in circles, pointing a gun at either side of his own head, with a the voice of a psychotic killer one second, and a scared District Attorney the next. The Penguin too, was better performed than in any other medium… His hunched little back and bow-legs that waddled him through his savvy Iceberg Lounge, rubbing elbows with mobsters and dancing girls and “Waaaagh”-ing just enough for everyone to see how well he lives up to his name. Catwoman and the Riddler were great too, Poison Ivy, sliding down a vine from the rafters to plant a kiss on the protagonist was a fantastic sight. Fan-favourite, Harley Quinn was utterly flawless. Comedic and adorable, funny and skilled, the character was perfectly nailed in every way. Her voice was a perfect recreation of the character that originated in The Animated Series, and she was every bit as dangerous as everyone else, while following her puddin’ around like a lost kitten, ready to turn into a tigress at the drop of a hat. Of all the villains however, there was one that received a bad review… The Scarecrow. This isn’t because he wasn’t incredibly good, which he was, almost unbelievably so, but because of how much he scared my poor girlfriend.

Alfred, as ever, was a delight. His role of comic relief was expertly filled, and the love everyone feels for him was evident by the long pause needed to wait for applause to die down after he introduces himself for the first time. Robin started out the show, with the rest of us, watching his parents in the rafters performing an ariel trapeze act that literally had my fearing for their safety, but by the end, was flying high and battling the hoards in very good stead. However, the Dynamic Duo’s performance was sadly let down somewhat by the male lead, the Dark Knight himself. I’m not sure if it was just that it wasn’t quite perfect in rehearsal, or if the costume was particularly restrictive, or anything else, but Batman’s performance wasn’t quite as good as everyone else’s. His fight scenes seemed somewhat slowed down, as if they were a run-through instead of the real thing, and since a large part of the show, naturally, was Batman taking down bad guys, this did prove to be quite an annoyance. We were watching the second ever performance of a five year tour however, so I’m sure this will be cleaned up before too long. I will say that if it returns to a nearby arena towards the end of its run, I will gladly part with the cash to see the by-then veterans, giving it another go.

I’ll wrap it up before I ramble too much, but I’ll leave with this. We saw an early show. It was two days after rehearsals and there were some creases that needed ironing out. Having said that, we saw a 30-acrobat strong circus performance of jugglers, trapeze artists and unicyclists, we saw some lovely young ladies descending from the sky in a sassy nightclub dance routine, we had The Joker firing cannons of confetti at us, an Arkham break-in, death, sadness, tragedy, madness, an insane few contraptions, notably a giant Jim Lee Joker head that came to life in a way that would be done a great disservice if I tried to sum it up, Harley Quinn toting a giant mallet (which to me covered the ticket price alone), not to mention the bazooka, we saw magic and humour, cheers and applause (mostly erupting from Bruce’s iconic reveal with the words “Dick… I am Batman.”), and a hoard of other treats I dare not go into.

It wasn’t perfect. Don’t expect it to be. If you have any standards at all that you expect it to meet, then you aren’t in the spirit of the performance. Just go there and know that you are about to see a bunch of actors and acrobats in costume, and if you let your imagination accept that, then everything you see will be real enough to amaze you.